“I came here for a reason,” Werth said. “I was told this place was going to be right. So when you see things that aren’t right, you speak up. If you don’t speak up, you just kind of accept it. I wouldn’t say I’m the most accepting person in the world. I’d rather try to get things right, nip it in the bud right away and take care of it so we can move forward.”
And so Werth started speaking up. “Probably not very tactfully,” he said. “But the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
During the 2011 season, he pulled Rizzo aside after games or during batting practice. After the season, Werth invited Rizzo to his home in suburban Virginia. Rizzo accepted.
“He comes up to me all the time,” Rizzo said. “He’ll make suggestions. I’ll tell him sometimes he’s full of [it]. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘That’s a good idea. Let me think about it.’ ”
‘Man, he was kind of right’
The numerous ideas that stuck became tangible symbols of Werth’s off-field impact. In the clubhouse kitchen, no longer does a cook make whatever players ask for. A chef trained in nutrition informs players how much sodium, fat or Vitamin A they should be eating.
“We’ve gone from probably the worst food in the league to the best food,” Werth said. “It’s more about nutrition. If you owned a racehorse, on the way to the race, would you stop at a fast-food restaurant and expect that horse to win?”
Werth advocated for better equipment in the weight room, and Rizzo took the requests to ownership. The Lerners bought both a single and double isokinetic activation device for $4,500. Position players use the single to build core strength. Pitchers use the double to strengthen their shoulders, one of the most important precautionary measures they can take.
The Nationals also added a long press, the barbell system Olympic weightlifters use, for $600 at Werth’s urging. They already had kettle bells weighing 55, 65 and 75 pounds. Werth persuaded them to purchase a 100-pound kettle bell for $500.
“At the beginning, people are like, ‘God, this guy,’ ” Zimmerman said. “At the end, they’re like, ‘Man, he was kind of right.’ . . . It’s like the guy at work that complains about the copier. Nobody wants to go to the boss and complain. But then once someone does, everyone is a lot happier.”
Last year, the Nationals’ front office spearheaded a four-month, in-depth analysis of their medical needs, comparing their processes to other teams and identifying areas of weakness. Werth played an instrumental role, suggesting alternative therapies — the Nationals obtained the services an acupuncturist at his urging — and recommending nontraditional specialists.