Jayson Werth had been searching for weeks, for more than a month, really, for a solution to the problem with his swing. He operates on feel at the plate, and nothing felt right, no matter how many hacks he took in the cage or how much film he watched. “It’s not for lack of effort, that’s for sure,” Werth said.
Werth stayed late Monday night at Nationals Park, devouring film of his swing with hitting coach Rick Schu. He believed he had found an answer at last. He stood taller in his stance, which enabled him to shorten his swing. In his first at-bat of the game, on a 1-1 pitch, Christian Friedrich threw him a 91-mph fastball, off the plate and inside. Werth smashed it foul, into the upper deck hanging over the seats down the line.
“I don’t remember the last time I did that,” Werth said. “I felt pretty confident after that.”
In June, Werth produced only six extra-base hits and his slugging percentage dropped to .370 for the season, lowest in the Nationals lineup and 61st in the National League. In the first game of July, Werth drilled two doubles and drew two walks. Sometimes, Werth said, one pitch can change a season. He hopes he found a turning point, and he believes it came when he smoked a foul ball.
“I think that was that pitch, that swing tonight – that foul ball I hit,” Werth said. “Hopefully that will be the one to get me going.”
Two pitches later, Werth ripped a curveball Ryan Wheeler and into the left field corner for a two-run double. In his next at-bat, he worked a walk. Manager Matt Williams believes along with making his swing more compact, standing taller helped Werth see pitches better.
“The [foul] ball found the sweet spot,” Werth said. “That’s what you want. I felt like I had made the adjustment I wanted to make. It just kind of gives you some confidence and lets you settle in a little bit up there. The whole night, spitting on pitches that I’ve probably been swinging at – or whaling at – lately. It was good. I’ve been working hard, and I’m glad I came through tonight.”
In his third plate appearance, Werth turned around an inside fastball and blasted it off the base of the scoreboard in right-center field. It drove in a run, giving him three RBI, and it further reinforced the mechanical change he made had worked.
“The second one was more telling, because the pitch was down and in,” Werth said. “That’s one thing I’ve been able to do throughout my career is really hit fastballs that are inside. I’ve been able to barrel those balls to right center, and sometimes I’ll hit home runs to right center on pitches like that. That was more telling than the first one. I feel good. It was nice to come through for the guys tonight.”
The Nationals’ lineup is humming now, having scored seven runs three consecutive games. In June, they’re 17-11 even after receiving almost nothing from Werth. He crushed the ball for most of April and May, only to hit into rotten luck. In June, he just stopped hitting, putting up a .212/.297/.293 slash line.
But he also kept working, kept looking for a way out. Tuesday, he may have found it.
“Hopefully I can build on that, and that’s the ticket going forward,” Werth said.
FROM THE POST
Again showcasing their fully loaded lineup, the Nationals thumped the Rockies, 7-3, to reach a new high-water record.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 5, Syracuse 4: Steven Souza went 3 for 5 with two homers and is hitting .358. Tyler Moore went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk. Brian Goodwin went 2 for 4. In two relief innings, Matt Grace allowed no runs on one hit and two walks.
Richmond 3, Harrisburg 2: Matt Skole went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk. Paulo Espino allowed two runs in six innings on four hits and no walks, striking out seven.
Wilmington 8, Potomac 2: Tony Renda went 2 for 3 with a walk. Randolph Oduber went 2 for 4.
Lakewood 2, Hagerstown 1: Nick Pivetta allowed two runs in seven innings on eight hits and a walk, striking out four. Ike Ballou went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Auburn 5, Mahoning Valley 2: Raudy Reed went 3 for 4 with a double. Brian Langlois went 2 for 4 with a double. Jeffry Rodriguez allowed two runs in six innings on nine hits and no walks, striking out one.