One early impression of Jayson Werth is that he’s a terrific, smart, aggressive base runner. In the very first inning of the season, Werth singled and then raced to third on Ryan Zimmerman’s ensuing single to right. On Saturday, Werth roped a liner to left-center, sped to first and, even though Nate McLouth cut the ball off before it reached the gap, bolted for second without hesitation and slid in safely for a double.
“I think he’s a great base runner,” third base coach Bo Porter said. “He was thinking double right out of the box. A lot of times, guys come out of the box, and then they make up their mind when they’re rounding first. Jayson made up his mind when he hit that ball that he was going to go for two. That’s the most important thing. He was committed to a double the whole time.”
Werth has not yet attempted to steal a base, and because Ryan Zimmerman is hitting behind him, Werth may curtail his stealing. But when he does try to steal, you can be quite certain he’ll make it. Over the past three years, Werth has stolen 53 bases in 60 tries, the third best rate in the majors over that span.
The top two, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, also played for the Phillies and, more significantly, studied under coach Davy Lopes, who has since moved to the Dodgers. Werth credits Lopes for his skill as a base runner, particularly his focus on stolen base percentage and going first to third on singles.
Last year Werth took an extra base – going first to third on a single, second to home on a single or first to home on a double – 47 percent of his chances. The 2010 National League average was 40 percent league, and the Nationals took an extra base on 36 percent of their opportunities.
“It’s a big part of the game,” Werth said. “I do take great pride in my base running. You look at stolen base percentage and going first and third. Making good choices out there, it’s all a part of winning baseball.”
The Nationals made taking an extra base a theme during spring training, and for three games they’re off to a reasonably good start. They’ve had four chances to take an extra base, and they have done so four times. Werth has been responsible for two of those.
It also hasn’t hurt that Werth was the Nationals’ best hitter during their opening series, going 4 for 10 with two doubles and two walks.