A familiar long-haired, bearded face bolted out of the dugout on Tuesday night as soon as Adam LaRoche slid across home plate and popped back up. The Nationals had come from behind (finally) and scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to top the Mets, 3-2, perhaps a redemptive win after a hectic day. Jayson Werth, after missing 28 games with a strained hamstring, was the first to celebrate the win with LaRoche.
After a day of moves that rearranged part of the composition of the roster — a sign of an injured and under-performing team pressed to improve — Werth was one of the regular faces that brought stability back. While two relievers packed up and two new faces arrived — although Anthony Rendon isn’t exactly new — Werth’s familiar face and bat returned to the No. 2 spot in the lineup that so plagued the Nationals while he was gone. He was back at a time when the Nationals, after a disappointing first two months, needed him at his best.
“Good to be back, back with the guys,” Werth said after the game. “I missed ’em. More importantly, we got the win. We came from behind against a quality closer and guys swung the bats great in the ninth there. Hopefully that’s something to get us going.”
Excluding the ninth inning, the Nationals’ offense was again nearly dormant even with Werth back in it. His impact at the plate wasn’t as noticeable — he went 1 for 4 and saw 17 total pitches, most in his final two at-bats — but his presence and fire in the lineup were.
“There’s a little more energy,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “With Jayson around, there’s always going to be energy. And he’s always talking it up. There was no letdown. Everybody was kinda disappointed we weren’t doing better up until that eighth inning, ninth inning. So it was good one.”
Werth is, according to Ian Desmond, the teammate who puts people in their place and doesn’t let others get comfortable. Not that it hasn’t happened before when needed, but it’s different coming from Werth.
“It’s good to have him back, I’ll put it that way,” Desmond said. “Obviously injuries happen and we played without him last year and we played great without him. He brings a lot of personality to the team and he holds people accountable to success, to playing their type of game. If you don’t, he’s going to talk to you in a way that makes you feel like, ‘Man, he kind of makes you feel like a peon,’ and that’s just his style. Hey, the guy’s got a lot of time in the big leagues, he’s had a lot of success in the postseason and he’s been there, done all that. He expects everyone to play their best every day and if you don’t give your best, he’s going to tell you about it. And that’s something that nobody likes to hear.”
While he rested, received treatment on his strained hamstring and played at Class A Potomac, Werth watched the Nationals games, took in more film and flipped through statistics. The most glaring statistic was the Nationals anemic on-base percentage of .287, last in the major leagues. Werth has been more aggressive at the plate this season and his .306 on-base percentage doesn’t immediately help that — but at his best he can help improve it.
“Just continue to have quality at-bats and working pitchers and not giving in,” Werth said. “We got the guys. We got the guys to do it. It’s just a matter of, like Davey says, guys living up to what they’re capable of doing and playing the game like they’re capable of playing. I think everybody in here believes in each other and believes in this team. We’ll be fine, we just need to get it going.”
The Nationals sit at 29-29, the eighth time this season their record is .500, and trail the Atlanta Braves by seven games. They have tread water for over two months, which, according to Werth, wasn’t exactly surprising.
“You know, in spring training there was talk about coming into the year after doing so well last year and having expectations and I kind of said, ‘We might be flat for a month or two,'” he said. “But I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this team. It’s just something you go through with a young team and guys finding their way in the league. We’ve got so much talent, sometimes it’s easy to get in your own way. Not surprising but at the same time, it’s time to get it going. Good win tonight. Hopefully this’ll jump-start us a little bit and definitely glad to be back with the guys.”
FROM THE POST
Time will tell whether the roster shake-up fuels a turnaround for the Nats, writes Thomas Boswell..
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 6, Syracuse 4: Eury Perez went 3 for 5. Jeff Mandel allowed six runs in 5 1/3 innings on 11 hits and no walks, striking out three.
Bowie 6, Harrisburg 5: Justin Bloxom went 2 for 4 with a homer. Destin Hood went 1 for 4 with a homer. Robert Gilliam allowed four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings on five hits and two walks, striking out four.
Potomac 9, Myrtle Beach 2: Randolph Oduber went 3 for 5 with a double. Michael Taylor went 2 for 5. Blake Schwartz allowed no runs in seven innings on three hits and three walks, striking out five.
Hagerstown 8, Kannapolis 2: Tony Renda went 4 for 5 with two doubles. Last year’s second-round pick is hitting .309/.374/.452, and in his last 10 games he has a 1.157 OPS. Matt Purke allowed zero runs in 4 2/3 innings on three hits and two walks, striking out eight. In two starts, Purke has 14 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.