Jayson Werth holds court


Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth stretches before a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, in VIera, Fla. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Like a lot of players in spring training, Jayson Werth reported to Florida with more competition than he expected. His came from Adam LaRoche and Ryan Mattheus, both of whom have grown beards than longer than Werth’s trademark whiskers.

“They got me,” Werth said. “I trimmed up last week. I had no idea. Usually it’s a no-contest so I kind of gave up on it. I guess I came in third.”

Thursday afternoon, Werth met with reporters after the Nationals’ first workout of the fourth spring training of his Washington tenure. He called new Manager Matt Williams “intense” and said he liked his approach. He called his teammates “upbeat.” And he also defended the Nationals’ 86-win 2013 season, seen by so many as a disappointment.

“We just didn’t play good enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance in the end,” Werth said. “But when you play like we did down the stretch and go into the postseason on fire like that, it’s good. A lot of teams end up winning the World Series like that. I didn’t mind that. I liked that about last year. People were awful down on last year. I’m kind of like, other than the first couple months, it wasn’t all that bad. We were really close to where we needed to be.”

Mostly, Werth’s media session was highly amusing. As he answered a question about continuity within the coaching staff, he ticked off coach after coach until he reached Mark Weidemaier, the Nationals new defensive coordinator. It turned out Weidemaier had coached Werth early in his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The only guy other than that is Weidecamp,” Werth said. “I had him in L.A. 100 years ago. I had some history with him. I know him probably more than most guys. It doesn’t matter.”

“Weidecamp?” a reporter asked.

“What’s his name?” Werth replied.

“Weidecamp?” another reporter said.

“What’s his name?” Werth asked again.

“Weidemaier,” a reporter said.

“Weidemaier,” Werth said, nodding knowingly. “I knew that was his name. Weidecamp is this guy I knew back home, anyways. I didn’t want to call him Weed, which is what I usually call him.”

Another reporter wondered if Weidemaier seemed as crazy then as he does now.

“Yeah, yeah,” Werth said. “You know what’s funny? When I heard the name or whatever, I didn’t put it together until I saw him. And then I saw him, and I was like, ‘Holy [smokes], I remember you! I remember you!’ He’s a little off-the-wall. He’s a good baseball guy. His expertise is in defense, situational stuff, all that good stuff. I think he’s going to be good.”

Later on, Werth was asked if he would have any input on where he hits in the lineup, as it seemed he did when Davey Johnson managed. Werth said he didn’t talk with Johnson that much about lineups, although player and manager may have traded messages through the media.

“I’ve maintained that I don’t make the lineup,” Werth said. “I have suggestions for the lineup, but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m just a grunt around here. I think you guys know where I want to hit.”

It turned out the group of reporters around Werth did not know where he wanted to it. Fifth, maybe?

“I’m no longer a five man.”

So, second?

“I do not want to hit five,” Werth said. “I do not want to hit two. I will hit two and I will hit five. I would hit four. I’m not leading off.”

Then that leaves …?

“I’ve always wanted to hit third,” Werth said. “If that’s where I hit, fine. If that’s not where I hit. … I’ve hit fourth, I’ve hit fifth, I’ve hit sixth, I’ve led off. I could probably hit ninth if it came to it.”

There is clear logic to Werth hitting third. That’s generally where teams put their best overall hitter, and last year, that was Werth. He was named the National League’s player of the month in July, and he finished with a .318/.398/.532 slash line and 25 home runs.

Werth may only make suggestions about the lineup, but he makes some stronger than others. Like leading off. He thrived hitting first late in 2012, after he returned from a broken left wrist. But now that strength has been restored, he has no desire to hit first again.

“The only reason why I hit one that year was because we needed somebody to do it,” Werth said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of power at the time. I did my job. I thought I did pretty good at one. I don’t want to ever do it again.”

Williams has repeated his desire to keep Nationals outfielders fresh by giving newly acquired fourth outfielder Nate McLouth semi-regular playing time, bouncing him around all three spots. Werth played 129 games last season, spending a month on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He may want to play every day, but Werth would be open to receiving occasional rest.

“You don’t like giving up your spot once you’ve got it,” Werth said. “At the same time, you always get nicked up, guys are always dinged up. So to have a guy like Nate, who’s the type of talent that can play pretty much every day – and Scott [Hairston] too, for that matter – to have those guys, it’s very valuable to have players like that on your bench. Guys who can step in and perform. At the same time, you got to keep those guys fresh, you’ve got to give them at-bats and let them play so they can keep their talent up. So, I’m all for whatever is best for the team. If it means me taking a day off, so be it. If it means me playing every day, I’m fine with that too.”

On days Werth plays the outfield, he will be subject to Weidemaier’s positioning, which will combine statistical analysis and advance scouting.

“I just stand out in the middle of nowhere and catch the ball when it’s hit to me,” Werth said. “There’s not a whole lot of positioning that goes into it.”

“Hey, I’m always learning and I’m open to any new suggestions and new ideas,” Werth added. “And vice versa. I’ve been playing in the NL East for a long time and know the parks, know the players. It’s good. We’ll all work together and we’ll all work together for one goal, and that’s why we’re here on day one.”

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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