Like the rest of the players in Nationals spring training, Jayson Werth has gotten to know his new manager more. He has found Matt Williams easy to talk to. As the season goes along, Werth said he will get a better sense for Williams and his personality, through the highs and lows of a season. But there’s one philosophy that Werth is already pleased to share with Williams: their ideas about baserunning.
The baserunning philosophies in place during Werth’s time with the Nationals have been different from what Williams is preaching this spring. Williams’ offensive ideology may be a little more aggressive than Werth’s, but the right fielder said the two “are in line.”
“The key to stealing bases is being aggressive,” Werth said. “We’re where we need to be. This will be the first year that it’s like this.”
Werth honed his base stealing and running in Philadelphia with Davey Lopes, who was the Phillies’ first base coach and outfield/baserunning instructor from 2007 to 2010. In those four seasons, the Phillies led the majors in stolen base percentage, including the best mark in MLB history of 87.9 percent (138 for 157) in the 2007 season. Lopes was an expert baserunner as a player, at age 40 going 47 for 51 on stolen base attempts for the Chicago Cubs in 1985. Werth believes the Nationals can be both aggressive and judicious on the bases in a similar way.
“There’s a difference between a person who is running and being aggressive and not knowing a whole lot,” Werth said. “That’s one type of aggressive. And there’s another type of aggressive where you’re ready every pitch and you’re ready and when you see what you want to see you’re aggressive. When the play comes, go into motion and then you go. The aggression gives you that opportunity to go and then you’re safe. Versus, ‘I’m going, going, going’ and not really basing anything on anything. You’re just a lion out of its cage. And that’s when you get thrown out a lot.”
Werth also believes the Nationals could thrive under this new way of thinking about running. The Nationals coaches have freed up players to make reads on their own and have given veterans green lights to decide when to run. Players can use their instincts instead of relying on signs.
“That’s the only way to steal bases,” Werth said. “That’s how base stealers steal bases. That’s how guys become great base stealers. You don’t become a good base stealer by getting steal signs and stealing. That’s when you get thrown out. Those philosophies are right now. I’m really happy about that.”
The Nationals could have the talent to accomplish this with, among others, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Nate McLouth. Of players with a minimum of 80 stolen bases in their career, Werth is fourth all-time in career stolen base percentage (87 percent). He dealt with leg injuries last season and may not possess the same speed as in the past, but he believes in smart aggression. McLouth, the Nationals’ new fourth outfielder, is tied for ninth on the same list with a career 84.9 percent stolen base percentage. (Chase Utley, at 88.4 percent, has the highest mark of all time.)
● Werth has been dealing with a minor bicep strain in his right arm that forced him to delay his Grapefruit League debut by three days. During spring training, as players go from training at home to full workouts, Werth said remnants of old injuries pop back up. Doctors told him that often it is just scar tissue breaking up. He said he felt a similar issue with his right arm last April which prevented him from taking batting practice but didn’t force him to miss any time.
There is no structural issue with his arm, Werth said, simply a minor muscle strain. “It’s feeling a lot better,” he said.