The Nationals activated and reinstated outfielder Jayson Werth from the disabled list on Thursday, and he will start in center field and bat sixth in his first game back — another vital piece of a once-much injured team returning.
To make room for Werth on the roster, the Nationals placed reliever Henry Rodriguez on the disabled list with a lower back issue, for which he has been receiving treatment, Manager Davey Johnson said.
Earlier this week, Werth told Johnson he needed two to three more minor league rehab games before would feel 100 percent ready to return. But after Werth played for Class A Potomac on Wednesday night, his ninth rehab game, Johnson received a midnight phone call from General Manager Mike Rizzo, who had spoken to the outfielder. Johnson was told that Werth felt ready to rejoin the Nationals.
“That’s what I was waiting for him to say,” said Johnson, who saw Werth taking batting practice on Wednesday and was pleased.
Added Johnson: “He’s in pretty damn good shape. It’s not like he hasn’t been anything for two and half months.”
Werth broke his left wrist making a diving catch in a May 6 game against his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Now, after missing nearly three months, he returns to face the Phillies and adds depth to the Nationals’ outfield. He was off to a stronger start to the season, his second with the Nationals, hitting .276/.372/.439 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 27 games before his injury.
For the first time this season, the heart of the Nationals’ batting order will be in the same lineup: Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and now Werth. Ian Desmond, who helped carry the offense when the team’s sluggers were hurt, is nursing his oblique injury and could return in four weeks.
“He’s a character,” Johnson said of Werth. “He’ll be on me. Kind of miss that. He’s such a gifted athlete, it’s great to have him back.”
Werth’s return changes several dynamics on the Nationals roster. With his ability to play center field, he can give rookie Bryce Harper a rest. Roger Bernadina’s recent strong play allowed Johnson to play him in center field and move Harper to right field to save his legs some.
Johnson wants to play only one left-handed hitter in the outfield. Now he can add Bernadina to the mix, along with Werth and Morse, so that Harper can get some time off. Harper has played in every Nationals game, save one, since he was called up to the majors on April 28. Bernadina can also help lessen the load on Werth, too.
The plan all along was to send rookie Tyler Moore down to the minors so that he could get playing time, Johnson said, to free up a roster spot for Werth. But, after consulting with the team’s doctor and trainers, the Nationals decided to give Rodriguez time to heal and create a spot for Werth that way.
Moore, a natural first baseman who learned left field this season, has done well in his first season in the majors, in limited playing time, hitting .293 with six home runs and 16 RBI in 99 at-bats. He was primarily been playing when the Nationals face left-handed hitters. With Werth back in the mix, Moore’s playing time will see even more of a cut.
Johnson said he would still try to sneak Moore in against left-handers or occasionally play him at first base, but it appears he may get more at-bats now as a pinch hitter.
“I’m going to have to be real creative and get him some playing time,” Johnson said. “That’s the tough part.”
Johnson had hoped that Moore could get 200 at-bats this season but with Werth back and the rest of the stable of outfielders, it may be harder. He discussed with Moore the possibility of him playing winter baseball somewhere to continue playing following the end of the major league season.
“He’s just too young, too good a talent,” Johnson said.
Rodriguez has been receiving treatment for his lower back since the Nationals’ four-game road trip in Milwaukee over the weekend. Johnson said it may been aggravated when he threw 38 pitches over 1 1/3 innings on Tuesday. This is the second time Rodriguez has landed on the disabled list this season. He missed 24 games after injuring his index finger.
The injury is fortuitous for the Nationals, who were facing a tough decision on how to create a roster spot for Werth when he returned. The Nationals are high on Rodriguez’s immense potential and his tremendous stuff, but he has been inconsistent with command and sports a 5.83 ERA. The right-handed reliever is out of minor league options, so if the Nationals had wanted to send him down, they would lose him.
Johnson has been using an eight-man bullpen, at the expense of an extra position player on the bench, because of how useful each reliever has been and the roles he has established for them. But with Rodriguez out of commission for a few weeks, the bullpen is down to seven pitchers, and that means a larger role for Drew Storen, who has been eased back into action after returning from the disabled list on July 19.
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