Over dinner in Chicago on the Nationals’ late-June road trip, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth discussed a topic more familiar to both of them than they wanted. They talked about hitting slumps. Something Desmond said struck Werth as an absolute, reassuring truth about the game. “Being in a slump is [crappy],” Werth recalled Desmond telling him. “But there’s nothing better than when you come out of a slump.”
Do you know that feeling when you lose something important — your wallet, your keys — and then you find it? Werth waited an entire month for that feeling. Over the past week, it materialized. After Werth scuffled through June, Major League Baseball named Werth the National League player of the week for July’s first week. He went 9 for 20 with five doubles, two home runs, five walks and nine RBI.
In one week, Werth smashed seven extra-base hits. He hit six in all of June – for the month, he batted .212/.297/.293. Werth spent the month hacking at the batting cage, watching film with hitting coach Rick Schu, searching for one small change. He altered the way he held his hands. He switched stances. The right switch arrived Tuesday, when Werth decided he would stand taller in the batter’s box, a stance that allowed him to see pitches better and make his swing more compact. That night, he drilled two doubles. He bashed a homer in each of the next two games.
“I always feel like I’m close,” Werth said. “I always feel like, even when I’m not feeling good up there, I’m one pitch away or a swing away or an at-bat away – just a very small adjustment away from being right. I’m not surprised. I know how close it can be. At the same time, you feel so far away. You put all the work in. You do tons of work. You have a bad game or whatever. And it’s like, you go home, it weighs on your mind, especially if you lose. If you win, it’s not nearly as bad.
“At the same time, if you feel like you’re close and you’re not getting the results, you feel like you’re just one small adjustment away. A week ago, or 10 days ago, whatever it was, I make that adjustment and, ‘Boom.’ All of a sudden we’re barreling balls and not giving any at-bats away — not giving any pitches away. It can change quick.”
Last season, Werth erupted in July and won the player of the month award, the first such honor of his career. He also made a mechanical switch last year, holding his hands higher in his stance to create more downward thump in his swing. But the circumstances of the adjustments differ. Last year, Werth found a comfortable swing while on a rehab assignment, and he held it for the remainder of the season. This year, Werth found it as he endured a slump.
“The adjustment that he made was a veteran guy understanding his swing and what he needs to do to have success,” Manager Matt Williams said. “He got away from it a little bit, and made that adjustment. That’s good. You learn that over time.”
Werth learned how to power through slumps in Philadelphia. Manager Charlie Manuel would always drawl, “Know thyself.” Werth took it to heart.
“You got to trust yourself,” Werth said. “You really do. You got yourself here by being really good for a really long time. So you just got to trust that it’s going to find its way back. Hopefully I can hold on to it now that I feel a little bit better.”