Can Jayson Werth bring swagger to the Washington Nationals?
The Nationals had two offseason goals. One they trumpeted. The other they soft-pedaled because the subject was touchy. They wanted a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. That was a flop. But they also craved an everyday star who could provide more intense clubhouse leadership. That's why they focused so intently on Jayson Werth, with his hairy, hard-edged look and filthy Phillies reputation.
Last season, both GM Mike Rizzo and Manager Jim Riggleman considered shortstop Ian Desmond as close to a vocal in-your-face, let's-get-the-lead-out influence in the clubhouse as the team possessed. And Desmond was a rookie!
Jolly Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, a Cal Ripken type, gave the Nats brains, star power production and a droll corner of the clubhouse. But when you have young talents such as Stephen Strasburg, rugged Bryce Harper and pepper-pot Danny Espinosa, you want them to enter a clubhouse where the richest player may also be one of the orneriest and where losing is seen as poison.
Now, the Nats will find out if the edgy Werth makes their team more fiery or if the franchise's losing tradition will douse some of his flame. This week, the first time Werth got to hit against live pitching, the Nats got their initial clue.
"He's probably going to hit me," Werth said to Rizzo as they watched Drew Storen warm up to throw batting practice. "If he does, I'll like him even more."
Storen's worst moment as a rookie was a blown lead in Philly when Werth's 460-foot walk-off homer sent the Nats on a long, bitter drive back to Washington.
In their first meeting since, would Storen really aim a 94 mph fastball close to a $126 million investment just to send a message that nothing was forgotten?
They don't come "nicer" than the Stanford-educated Storen, but his first pitch buzzed directly at the "W" on Werth's chest - the perfect brushback, but not a knockdown pitch. Werth's shaggy Wolfman hair bounced as he bailed.
"Told you," he muttered to Rizzo.
"Now we're even," Werth yelled to Storen, who doubled over, glove over face.
"Can't have you too comfortable," shot back Storen.