Batting leadoff has not changed Jayson Werth, but it has revealed a part of how he approaches the game. Werth revels in baseballās subtleties, constantly thinking about the small edges that become significant over a 162-game season. When he is leading off, he thinks about every aspect of the job, including the moments when he strolls to the batterās box at a comically slow pace.
The next time the Nationalsā pitcher makes the second out of an inning, focus your eye on Werth. Heāll knock the weighted donut off his bat, take a step off the on-deck circle, swing the bat a couple times, go back to the on-deck circle for some more pine tar, take another few swings, amble toward the batterās box, take a few more swings, dig a whole in the batterās box dirt and, finally, take his stance and begin his at-bat.
The point of all that? Werth is trying to give the pitcher more time to catch his breath before heading back to the mound. It is a small thing, but those are things Werth does.
āThatās what youāre supposed to do,ā Werth said last week. āThatās part of a leadoff hitterās job. Thatās probably the only thing I donāt like about leading off. Now my focus is not on my at-bat. Itās on giving him time to get in the dugout. Which is fine. You got to adjust and adapt. I think it was [Roy] Halladay, would always want as much time as you could give him. So, like, even the second hitter would take his time. Thatās just part of doing it. It is what it is. I like doing it.ā
Werth, a big-ticket free agent who has hit 36 homers in a season, is not a conventional leadoff man, but he thrives at the most important job of the No. 1 hitter: He does not make many outs. Since he returned Aug. 2, Werth has a .409 on-base percentage. Saturrday’s game was typical: He went 2 for 3 with a walk and a double and scored two runs.
Werth also takes a ton of pitches, which helps the rest of the Nationalsā lineup. Bryce Harper has said it helps him when heās on deck, giving him more time to go through his routine and prepare for his at-bat. Werth has seen 4.40 pitches per plate appearance this year, fourth-most in the major leagues.
āThe pitches seen and all that stuff, thatās just a product of my approach,ā Werth said. āItās not like Iām going out there saying, āIām going to see as many pitches as I can.ā Thatās just what happens. Itās not like thatās my focus. Itās not, āLetās just grind out an at-bat here for no reason.ā Iām trying to do damage. It just ends up I see a lot of pitches.ā
Werth volunteered to become the Nationalsā leadoff hitter, and Manager Davey Johnson agreed he fit there best. It puts Werth in the middle of everything, which is how he likes it.
āThe other thing about it I like, it seems like the lineup always flips over the end of the game,ā Werth said. āIāve always loved late-inning at-bats. I live for that. You live for hitting with the game on the line. I want that at-bat. So thereās that.ā