For the better part of three days, by the time he took one pitch in the sixth inning, San Diego’s Petco Park had slowly turned Jayson Werth into an irritable cuss. The thick marine air had killed three deep drives at the warning track. A cluster of fans in the right field seats chanted “Jay-son’s Werth-less!” at him. One inning earlier, he turned a double into a triple when his spikes caught in the warning track. One pitch earlier, he had watched a curveball and glared at the umpire.
In a scoreless game, when the Nationals needed it most, Werth unleashed his anger in one swing. Werth’s solo home run provided the Nationals’ only run last night and an outlet for his recent frustration. Petco had beaten him down, and so, too, had a season full of what he considered hard-hit balls that amounted to nothing.
Werth slammed his bat to the ground and took two slow steps out of the box, eyes to the ground. The ball landed about five rows deep, some 390 feet from home plate. He circled the bases and, as he rounded third, walloped third base coach Bo Porter’s hand. The Petco effect?
“Probably part of it,” Werth said. “Probably more to it than that. Definitely, over the course of the season so far, there’s been some balls that I hit that didn’t go anywhere, or the results wasn’t what I thought. But that’s the name of the game. Especially early in the year, the ball doesn’t fly as well.”
Even with some buzzard’s luck, Werth extended a resurgent beginning to his second season in Washington. Before the game, next to the Nationals dugout Werth chatted briefly with Scott Boras, the agent who negotiated Werth’s seven-year, $126 million contract. After a disappointing first season of the deal, Werth has spent the season’s first month turning around his tenure in Washington, hitting .290 with an .859 OPS and two homers.
“He’s in a good place,” Manager Davey Johnson said before the game. “I think he’s going to have a great year. The last couple days, he’s hit some balls on the button that in previous ballparks would probably be home runs.”
In the seventh, he finally sent one out at Petco. With the bases empty and down 0-1 in the count, Werth dug in against Edinson Volquez. The Nationals had managed a measly two hits all night. Volquez threw a 94-mph fastball high in the strike zone to the wrong ornery, bearded hitter. Werth clobbered it to left field. He started jogging, thinking the ball was long gone, but it still only landed a few rows deep.
“It’s tough to put the ball over the fence, that’s for sure,” Werth said. “It’s got to be frustrating for those guys to play here.”
Werth’s solid start has been somewhat overlooked as the Nationals have struggled to score runs. But if Werth can continue this start for the whole season, it’ll change what they’re capable of. Last year, he never felt comfortable with his swing, but he does now.
“I think I’ve been swinging the bat well all year,” Werth said. “The numbers look okay. They’d probably look a lot better if a couple balls do something different, you know? I feel good up there. I’ve felt good all year. I feel like I don’t have a lot to show for it, but I feel pretty locked in.”
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NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 5, Rochester 4 (8 innings): Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with a walk. Jason Michaels went 3 for 4 with a home run. Corey Brown went 1 for 4 with a home run. Zach Duke allowed two runs in six innings on eight hits and a walk, striking out four.
Syracuse 3, Rochester 2 (7 innings): Bryce Harper went 1 for 2 with an RBI and a walk. Mark Teahen went 2 for 3. Erik Arnesen allowed one run in five innings on two hits and no walks, striking out four.
Altoona 6, Harrisburg 4: Robert Gilliam allowed four runs in six innings on six hits and a walk, striking out eight. Tim Pahuta went 2 for 4 with a double.
Winston-Salem 7, Potomac 6: Michael Taylor went 3 for 3 with three doubles and a walk. Randolph Oduber went 3 for 4 with a home run and a walk. Blake Kelso went 2 for 5 with a triple.
Rome 6, Hagerstown 2: Cutter Dykstra went 2 for 5 with a double. Matt Skole went 1 for 3 with a walk and an RBI, his 27th this season.