Werth shatters stereotypes about batting first and excels at reaching base, the one thing that truly matters. Harper pulled out of a wicked slump, showed renewed patience and again started battering pitchers. They push each other and they make the rest of the Nationals’ lineup as potent as possible.
“It’s not an orthodox type thing,” Werth said. “It’s not standard. It just makes sense to me.”
Harper and Werth, the Nationals’ punchless weekend in Atlanta notwithstanding, have helped give Washington one of the deepest, most dangerous lineups in the National League. In games Werth has led off, the Nationals are 15-8 while scoring five runs per game, even after the sweep in which they scored six total runs. Manager Davey Johnson put two of his best on-base hitters 1-2, and those hitters happen to be able to bang the ball off or over the wall, too.
“There’s no easy outs anywhere,” Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Two athletic guys at the top of the order. They can run the ball out of the ballpark at you, too. You don’t see that very often.”
Werth began the season hitting fifth or sixth most games, with Ian Desmond leading off. Werth broke his wrist in early May and missed three months, which pressed Johnson to move Desmond down in the order to add thump in the middle. In his place, Johnson moved Steve Lombardozzi to the leadoff spot.
Lombardozzi reached base more frequently than Desmond, and as he watched the Nationals play without him, Werth thought, “That’s the type of leadoff hitter we need.” In the middle of the lineup, Desmond could swing away and fulfill his potential as a power hitter — he has mashed 23 homers, one more than his previous career total over two-plus seasons.
Werth knew Lombardozzi would be relegated to the bench upon his return. Shortly before he returned in early August, Werth had a discussion with Johnson. “Just insert me in right there, at the top of the lineup,” he suggested. “I think we’re good.” Johnson — as he dubbed Werth, “a 6-foot-6 donkey who wants to lead off” — agreed.
“It just works,” Werth said. “Our lineup is really balanced. I always like guys to lead off that have high OBPs [on-base percentages]. It doesn’t make sense to me to put a guy at the top of the lineup just because he’s fast. Be fast at the bottom of the lineup. You don’t get on base, but you’re fast?”