This morning, Manager Davey Johnson sent outfielder Jayson Werth a text message asking if Werth needed a day off this afternoon. Werth has been bothered by soreness in his left leg knee and calf since Tuesday night, when he and Rick Ankiel swapped positions mid-inning, Werth moving to right and Ankiel taking center, the more demanding position.
“He’s been getting treatment on it every day,” Johnson said. “He’s got a little bum knee. He had some strange-looking blue tape on it last night.”
Johnson seemingly thought Werth would not play – this morning, there whiteout smudged below Werth’s name on the lineup card. Werth had convinced Johnson he could play by texting back to his manager that he was fine and just had a little stiffness in his leg.
Johnson, though, kept Werth in right in an attempt to limit his running. “And,” Johnson said, “I’m pretty comfortable with the other guy.”
Johnson, of course, meant Ankiel. The past two nights, Ankiel has made two plays that may have won the Nationals the game. In Tuesday’s 3-2 win, Ankiel threw out a runner at the plate. Last night, he made a tremendous diving catch in gap with two men on base and two outs in the ninth inning.
The Nationals are looking for a full-time center fielder for 2012. Ankiel’s .306 on-base percentage and 87 OPS+ this season does not make him much of a candidate for that spot, but his outstanding defensive play and occasional power could convince the Nationals to at least give him a crack at it and, more likely, carry him as a bench player.
Johnson said he could see Ankiel, a free agent, returning next season, especially since he provides a left-handed bat. Ankiel, for what it’s worth, also seems to be one of the most respected players in the Nationals’ clubhouse.