Jayson Werth’s power surge

(Katherine Frey/TWP)

(Katherine Frey/TWP)

There have been many problems with the Nationals offense this season, but Jayson Werth, recently, hasn’t been one. Sure, there have been times when even Werth has fallen to the Nationals’ season-long disease of stranding runners on base in crucial spots of games, but since his return from a hamstring injury in early June he has scorched the ball.

Werth homered twice on Monday and has launched four home runs in two games, over the span of eight plate appearances. The 34-year-old is the first player in Nationals history to have consecutive multi-homer games. He has 14 home runs on the season, one behind team leader Ian Desmond, and has posted a .506 slugging percentage, only a fraction behind team leader Bryce Harper’s .509 mark. His slugging percentage is the highest of his career since his 27-homer season in 2010 in Philadelphia. The production has been so good that Werth has declined to address it, almost out of superstition.

“It’s just one of those things better left unsaid, not talk about it,” he said after Monday’s loss.

When Werth returned from a broken wrist last season, he excelled as a leadoff hitter. But he was an unconventional choice, as leadoff hitters don’t command $126-million contracts. His wrist, however, wasn’t back to full strength and the team needed a hitter to back leadoff and his ability to work opposing pitchers fit well. Entering this season, he felt confident in his wrist. He began as the Nationals’ No. 2 hitter, but slowly moved lower in the lineup. Manager Davey Johnson has fiddled with the lineup several times this season but had noticed that Werth was being more aggressive at the plate.

“He’s made some adjustments, he’s made some changes with his stance and I think his approach has been pretty good all year,” Johnson said. “I think the main thing with him is he feels like his left wrist is healthy. He’s been impressive. His approach in BP. So, I mean, he’s in a good spot.”

Werth’s tenure in Washington has been severely limited by injury, the majority because of a broken left wrist while diving for a fly ball last May. He has played in 299 of 423 possible games since his first season in 2011. But when he has been on the field the past two seasons, he has been quietly productive.

Over his past 149 games — 620 plate appearances since the beginning of the 2012 season — Werth has hit .300 with a .377 on-base percentage, .470 slugging percentage, 19 home runs and 70 RBI. His on-base percentage is down this season — from .387 last season to .366 — but his power is up.

He has still managed to scorch the ball without losing his trademark ability to work opposing pitchers; he is seeing 4.32 pitches per plate appearance, which would rank him fourth in the majors if he qualified. Last season, he saw 4.37 pitches per plate appearance.

“It’s great to see that,” Adam LaRoche said of Werth’s power production. “You watch him take BP and he’s do that every other swing. So to now do it in a game is great. He’s a guy who prides himself in taking a lot of pitches and going deep into counts. I think he’s kinda now picking and choosing some spots to be a little more aggressive and show that power. He’s been good the last two nights.”

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