The rumor started floating around the Nationals clubhouse as soon as players trickled back into their happy clubhouse. “Folklore,” Jayson Werth said. The home run Werth had crushed in the first inning deserved a legend attached to it. A member of the grounds crew sent word that the baseball Werth swatted clean out of Space Coast Stadium had flown over the bleachers and crashed into his own truck.
“That’s usually where I park,” Werth said. “You can only hope.”
The mammoth home run continued the good feeling Werth has about this spring, and the rest of the Nationals have about him. With the increased comfort his second season in the same place brought, Werth has used this spring to separate his poor first season from what he believes is a bright future.
“A lot has changed in a year, I’d say,” Werth said. “I definitely feel better at the plate this time this year than this time last year. I never really got going in spring training last year, and it kind of carried into the season.”
Werth never found his swing last year, a flaw that began in spring training. Last March, he hit one home run and struck out 12 times. This year, he has three homers – the first two hit when he swung at the first pitch – and five strikeouts with a .999 OPS.
Really, that’s a carryover from last year. His dismal numbers at the end of the season overshadowed a small revival – Werth hit .264/.349/.445 in his final 58 games, not stellar, but not a disaster, either.
“He’s been a different guy,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “He’s hit the crap out of the ball. Starting the second half of last year, he started being the guy everybody saw in Philly and made us go get him. I think you’re going to see a big-time change this year.”
Werth’s home run today provided an exclamation point. In the first inning, with Zimmerman standing on second, Mets prospect Matt Harvey threw Werth a fastball on the inner third. Werth turned and blasted it over the fence … over the bleachers … over a small billboard … over everything.
“The hardest ball I’ve seen him hit since he’s been here,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
If Michael Morse cannot return from his strained lat in time for the season, Werth will likely hit cleanup for the Nationals. “That makes sense,” Werth said. “If my swing is good, I can hit anywhere in the lineup. If my swing is not good, it doesn’t really matter.”
Late this afternoon, after the Nationals had snapped an 11-game winless streak with a 12-0 thumping of the Mets, Werth ambled across the outfield at Space Coast Stadium and through the door in the center field fence to inspect his truck. If the ball had actually done any damage, he planned to leave it as is, a badge of honor to last into his second year in Washington.
Johnson has said he expects a huge season from Werth. And Werth welcomed those expectations.
“I agree with him,” Werth said. “You have a sense of where you’re at, and some years you don’t. I feel good about this year and about this team. I’m ready to go, really.”