Before he came to the Nationals, Jayson Werth won a World Series and played on a Phillies team that captured four straight division titles. All of those winners could not compare, in his mind, to the collection of talent the Nationals have assembled this year. In fact, no other team could, either.
‚ÄúHas there ever been a team that‚Äôs this complete on paper?‚ÄĚ Werth said, standing in the Nationals’ clubhouse after he reported for spring training. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not really a guy that looks at stuff like that. You look around the room where we‚Äôre at, who we got, I feel pretty good about it. Then people say, ‚ÄėYou got to stay healthy.‚Äô Well, we weren‚Äôt too healthy last year, and we won [98 games]. We got guys on the bench that are probably ready to play every day somewhere. I‚Äôd say, top to bottom, you got to feel good about it. But you still got to go out there and play. We got the guys I‚Äôm happy to go to war with.‚ÄĚ
After additions and subtractions this offseason, Werth is officially the old hand in the Nationals‚Äô clubhouse. He‚Äôll turn 34 in May, making him the oldest player among those likely to make the 25-man roster. His voice has carried weight in the Nationals‚Äô clubhouse since the day he arrived, and that has never been more true than now.
Today, Werth held court for roughly 20 minutes, hitting on various topics, starting with the sting of how last year ended.
‚ÄúI know for me, that Game 5 is still pretty fresh,‚ÄĚ Werth said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd say that‚Äôs probably the case for most guys in here. That‚Äôs okay. I‚Äôm okay with that. That‚Äôs just part of it. You go through your career, you‚Äôve got good wins and bad wins.‚ÄĚ
Werth added his walk-off homer to win Game 4 remained ‚Äúpretty fresh, too.‚ÄĚ But Werth said he thought about the final game ‚Äúdaily‚ÄĚ this winter. Most Nationals have tried to downplay the effect their wrenching loss will have on the spring. Werth embraced it as a motivational factor.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs definitely times that it‚Äôll pop into my head and I‚Äôll kick something or cuss,‚ÄĚ Werth said. ‚ÄúWhen you‚Äôre that close to something ‚Ä¶ I‚Äôm a baseball player. I‚Äôve been playing baseball my whole life. I‚Äôve wanted to do nothing else but play baseball. So like I said ‚Äď ‘World Series or bust,’ well no [kidding]. That‚Äôs the slogan every year since I was 8 years old.
‚ÄúWhen you get that close and you can taste it and something like that happens, that‚Äôs going to stick with me. That‚Äôll probably stick with me till I die. That‚Äôs okay. That‚Äôs not a big deal. It‚Äôs the things that drive you. You wake up in the morning pissed off ready to work out because of stuff like that. It‚Äôs just part of being a ballplayer.‚ÄĚ
Werth will enter the year with his surgically repaired wrist still not back to full strength. Werth broke the wrist in early May last year, and doctors have told him the full recovery will take 18 to 24 months. He can still be productive ‚Äď last year, he hit .312/.394/.441 upon returning for the final two months of the season. He said he would wait and see if the wrist would affect his spring routine.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs coming along,‚ÄĚ Werth said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs better than it was [at NatsFest]. It‚Äôs actually gotten a lot better since the last time we talked. ‚Ä¶ ¬†It‚Äôs definitely not as strong as it was [before the injury]. I‚Äôve been hitting. It doesn‚Äôt bother me. I feel strong. Obviously, the numbers are going to speak for themselves. I definitely didn‚Äôt have as much power when I came back from the injury as before the injury. I felt like I did a pretty good job. I played at a pretty good level. I expect just to get better.‚ÄĚ
The Nationals have decided how Werth and Bryce Harper will be aligned next to Denard Span in center field. Werth has a clear opinion that, Manager Davey Johnson said, will provide the answer. He believes Harper should continue learning the outfield in left.
‚ÄúThere were some things he‚Äôs got to work on,‚ÄĚ Werth said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just a matter of time. When that time comes, I‚Äôll move to left and stay there the rest of the way probably. We‚Äôre not there yet.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs just a lot more responsibility in right. There‚Äôs an experience factor to playing the outfield. Left is where you can get by with the least amount of experience. That‚Äôs where Bryce is right now. He‚Äôs an inexperienced big league outfielder. That‚Äôs not any knock on his ability by any means. He‚Äôs extremely talented. And I think he is, right now, a very good outfielder. As time goes on, he will be even better. This could happen fairly quickly. He could progress at a relatively quick rate, like he does everything else. I think it‚Äôs more up to him than it is me. I‚Äôm not standing in his way by any means. When I mess around with him, I always tell him, ‚ÄėDefensive liabilities play left.‚Äô That‚Äôs where we‚Äôre at right now.‚ÄĚ
Werth mostly kept his thoughts on the lineup ‚Äď and he has plenty ‚Äď to himself. He did make a good point about the top of the order. He said it wouldn‚Äôt make sense for Harper to hit second behind Span, and not only because that would put two left-handed hitters atop the lineup. He considered the ninth spot, where a pinch-hitter will most often be batting late in game. The Nationals‚Äô best pinch-hitter is Chad Tracy, who also lefty. So, putting Span-Harper at 1-2 would set up three lefties to hit consecutively late in games, giving the opposing manager an easy shot to bring in a lefty reliever.
Finally, Werth gave an insightful take on the difference between having Michael Morse and Span. He pointed out the biggest difference will not just be in style, but also the way Johnson can have more options in late-game situations.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre all going to miss Mikey,‚ÄĚ Werth said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a great player and has done a great job for us. You insert Span at the top and I think what it gives us the ability to do ‚Ä¶ in a lot of games, Mikey would have to get double-switched out to get a defensive replacement in the outfield just so we could have more speed out there. I think that, to me, will probably be the biggest ‚Ä¶yeah, you‚Äôre going to lose his bat, but you‚Äôre going to get Span‚Äôs bat, so it‚Äôs a little different there. But if you throw the defense into it, you don‚Äôt have to double-switch, you don‚Äôt have to miss a player, not waste a player, but you don‚Äôt have to use a bench guy, that‚Äôs an upgrade. Not knocking Mikey by any means, but just for our team, I think that‚Äôs an upgrade.
‚ÄúAnd I think that‚Äôs probably why [General Manager Mike Rizzo] did that, knowing full well that if we ended up signing [Adam] LaRoche, that meant that Mikey wasn‚Äôt going to end up being on the team. Again, it‚Äôs not a knock on Mikey, it just makes our team better. And I think ‚Ä¶ we‚Äôll see what happens with Mikey. It‚Äôll be interesting see if he stays there all year in Seattle or what they do, but we‚Äôll all be watching closely. And he‚Äôll be missed around here. Not only on the field, but in the clubhouse, on the plane, trains, different places where he excelled.‚ÄĚ
And that is one more example of how deeply Werth understands the game.