Jayson Werth cannot remember the first week after he broke his left wrist. All the post-surgery medication turned it into a haze, which made it easier to take than the months that followed. He sat in the Nationals dugout during home games or watched from home during road games.
“The second week, I was sitting at home watching the games when the team was on the road,” Werth said. “You see the game from a different perspective, really. You feel really removed. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not fun. It’s not enjoyable. It’s not vacation. It’s like purgatory. It’s not where you want to be, that’s for sure.”
Ten weeks and four days after he broke his wrist, Werth finally is back where he wants to be. Today, Werth took batting practice on the Nationals Park field for the first time, spraying line drives and blasting balls over the fence, seven in a row at one point.
As he took batting practice, Manager Davey Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo looked on. “I was really pleasantly surprised,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think he’d be hitting for another week.”
On Friday, sooner than he ever expected, Werth will begin his rehab assignment at Class A Potomac. He put no expectations on when he will return to the majors, but his recovery has already progressed well ahead of schedule.
“I think everyone is a little surprised,” Werth said today in his first comments since the surgery. “I’m surprised, at least at how it felt in the last week. You know, it’s come a long way.”
Even up until the all-star break, Werth still felt “a little post-surgery stuff” in his wrist, a slight feeling of atrophy. His wrist still had too much weakness to pull the ball when he hit off a hitting machine. He took two days off, then returned to taking batting practice last Wednesday, the day after the All-Star Game. “And it felt fine,” Werth said. “Which was, like, a shock. Come Thursday, I was hitting two days in a row. It’s kind of just taken off from there.”
Richard Berger, the Mayo Clinic surgeon who both repaired Werth’s severe wrist injury early in his career and his broken wrist, told Werth his recovery would be mostly steady, with little rapid improvement, and then improve drastically and quickly at the end. Werth moved his hand in a straight line, then moved it straight up into the air to chart the expected course.
“And it really has,” Werth said. “It’s just one of those things where we’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. But we’re really good. We’re way ahead. I think everyone is really pleased. I’m real excited.”
Werth has now reached the point where he can play in games again. He still needs to improve the strength in wrist – he can bash the ball in batting practice, but can’t quite make the quick, strong movement to react to a breaking ball or sinking fastball. But he wants to start rehabbing now to get his body and timing in shape as his wrist improves. Werth hopes it will not take a full, 20-day rehab assignment, but he’s not putting himself on any strict timetables.
“I’m going to get my body in shape, ready to play, as I’m gaining strength,” Werth said. “There are things I still don’t have with my hand. It’s not that I need to prepare. We’ve still got a ways to go with the rehab. At the same time, it feels good enough that I’m not going to injure it. I don’t expect any setbacks or anything like that. At the same time, I’m going to get my body and my legs, my eyes, in shape ahead of time while my hand continues to heal and recover. It’s a timing thing.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where I go up too early and I injure it. At the same time, I don’t want to go out and my hand is ready, but yet my legs aren’t. It’s getting ready to play. We all feel good about the timing of it and what we’re trying to accomplish. Will it be all 20 days? I don’t think so. But I don’t know. Everything has happened so fast. It’s a good thing. But there are still a lot of unknowns.”
The Nationals will begin a series against the Phillies, Werth’s former team, at Nationals Park on July 31. Werth had strong words for Phillies fans on the day he underwent surgery, but he said he would not be motivated to return for that series.
“I want to get to a point where I’m ready to play up here,” Werth said. “I don’t want to be a detriment to the team because I’m trying to play hero and come back early. I want to be able to play when I come back. … I’ve done that before. The team is playing good. There’s no reason to come up here before I’m ready to go.”
For Werth, the process of healing his wrist this year did not compare to 2005, when he suffered a unique tear of a ligament. He was misdiagnosed and sat out an entire season. He had not yet established himself and, before he met Berger on a chance, Werth worried his career might be over. He had none of those worries this time.
“It is the same wrist, but it’s not the same injury,” Werth said. “I could tell, it’s really totally different. I don’t have any – mentally, I’m fine. I haven’t really worried. It’s a lot different, too, when you have a guaranteed contract, you’re on a team, you know when you come back you’re going to have a job. When I got injured [in 2005], I didn’t know if I was going to play again. I didn’t know if I was ever going to get another opportunity to play.
“Opportunities are few and far between in this game. That was a big aspect to get over in my last rehab. I don’t have those worries. I don’t have that sort of thing. My focus has been on staying in shape and trying to help the team any way I can. It’s been a different deal. It’s been totally different. I didn’t ever have a sense it’s going to be a career-ending thing. I haven’t really had that kind of negative thing to deal with, other than having to deal with not playing.”
While Werth hated sitting out, he enjoyed watching the Nationals come together. On the day he was injured, the Nationals were up by half a game in the National League East. Today, they’re ahead by 3 ½ games.
“We’ve got a really fun and exciting team,” Werth said. “In that regard, it’s been great. They’ve been playing good and it’s been fun to watch. That’s one thing that people locally have something to look forward to every night. The amount of talent and the personalities and the different characters we have on the team, it makes for an enjoyable evening of baseball. In that respect, it’s been great. With that said, I’m ready for it all to be over.
“I mean, this is a great opportunity. It’s a great time in Washington baseball history. I want to be a part of it. I love what’s going on. I love our team. We’ve got a great group of guys. When I got hurt we were in first place, and I hope to come back in first place. That just goes to show you the type of team we’ve got and the way we’ve been playing. Good manager, everything’s working. I just want to come back and just be a part of it.”
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