Jayson Werth confident with new team, new role after first Nationals spring training workout

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; D07

VIERA, FLA. - On his first day wearing a full Washington Nationals uniform, right fielder Jayson Werth embraced his new team's underdog role and expressed comfort in any role the team gives him in the field or in the lineup.

While saying, "there's still some room for improvement" for the Nationals roster, Werth showed no qualms about moving from the first-place Philadelphia Phillies to the last-place Nationals.

"You start at even," Werth said. "No one's won any games or lost any games this year. I've always said I'm up for a challenge and I pull for an underdog. We're in a situation here where it's going to be a challenge. But we're going to do some things that most people think is impossible or we can't do. I love that position."

Werth, who started 19 games at center field last season, said he would be comfortable with a similar role this year. Werth has batted either second, fifth or sixth most of his career, but he said batting cleanup - or anywhere in the lineup - "doesn't change what I'm going to do."

Werth also gave a unconventional view of the Nationals' outfield situation. Although he is set in right and team officials have penciled in Nyjer Morgan as the center fielder, Werth called the outfield "an interesting dynamic" with "two spots that are unaccounted for and maybe six or seven guys that could fill that role. It's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out." He then raved about new acquisitions Rick Ankiel and Matt Stairs, who is a former Phillies teammate.

Werth understands he will receive a new kind of attention after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract. He seemed at ease when asked if he thinks he'll grow weary of hearing about the deal.

"I don't know. I guess we'll cross that bridge," Werth said. "I wanted to be in that ground-up situation and be part of something. You build a team from what it was and take it to where I think it's going to go; I think that's the type of situation I want to be in."

Riggleman's message

Manager Jim Riggleman addressed the Nationals before the team's first full workout, sending a brief message with the goal of altering expectations.

"A lot of people in the room got to say a few words," Riggleman said. "My message to the team was, there's a tremendous amount of talent in the room here. With that talent, expectations get raised. Let's meet and exceed those expectations, and let's play baseball. It's a great group that Mike and the Lerner family have put together. The job we have now is to make this group a team."

Football season

New Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, also the team's outfield coach, made an impression during his first practice. Porter used an unusual technique none of his players had seen: He made players chase fly balls with a football under their glove arm.

Porter developed the drill while with the Florida Marlins. Porter, a two-sport star who played outfielder and defensive back at Iowa in the early '90s, wanted to ensure his outfielders held their running form while chasing a fly ball, not allowing flailing limbs to slow them down.

"It's just basically keeping your arms tucked," Morgan said. "It's going to help. You just got to buy in what Bo Porter is selling."

Porter said Morgan and Bryce Harper took to the football-carrying drill. . . .

Right-handed, side-winding reliever Cla Meredith will resume throwing Thursday. He had to cut short his first bullpen session after feeling discomfort in his elbow, a consequence of offseason surgery to remove bone chips. . . .

The Nationals are still waiting on visas for rocket-armed relievers Henry Rodriguez and Elvin Ramirez.

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