CINCINNATI — About a month ago, Jayson Werth walked into Davey Johnson’s office and told his manager ‘If you need somebody in center field, I’m your man.’
The Nationals, with Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, Brian Bixler and Rick Ankiel, seemed to have more corner outfielders than center fielders and while Ankiel has filled the position almost daily the past month, he sat for the third straight day Saturday as Werth got his first look in center field this season. With the addition of Chris Marrero to the Nationals roster and their lineup, Michael Morse was shifted to left field. With that one domino falling, Johnson figured why not switch a few other things up.
“I didn’t want Mike Morse to feel like I was picking on him, so I moved another position player also,” Johnson said. “He’s not the only one that’s going to be playing a new position.”
It’s not technically a new position for Werth. He’s played 103 games in his career as a center fielder and played 21 in 2010 for the Philadelphia Phillies when Shane Victorino was injured. When the Nationals signed Werth this offseason, they trumpeted his ability to slide over to center in the future when someone like Bryce Harper is ready to join the major league club. Still, just to be sure, Johnson sent Werth a text message Saturday morning to let him know his plans and make sure his legs were feeling up to the task.
“He texted me right back and said, ‘I’m feeling good,’” Johnson said. “I said ‘Then you can count on it.’”
The Nationals are slowly transitioning into the mode of finding out what may work for them for the 2012 season. They’re going to see what they have in Marrero at first, give Morse more playing time in left, eventually get some new pitchers into the mix and bring up a middle infielder or two as well.
And also, see if they may have something in Werth as a center fielder.
“I feel comfortable that he can do it,” Johnson said. “I want to look at all the options we have. Maybe it’s a little early, but in my mind, it’s never too early to look at other things.”
Johnson spoke with both Rick Ankiel and Jonny Gomes about the decision, though it also affects Laynce Nix, who started in right field and told them not to panic, that this is just the nature of this time of year and the position the Nationals are in in the standings.
“I think Ankiel would be the first to tell you, he’s pleased that he had a lot of playing time this year,” Johnson said. “I wanted to give other guys an opportunity to do some things. I want to see what we’re capable of doing and what we’re not capable of doing. We’ll go from there.”
Johnson did not commit to playing Werth in center field for any game other than Saturday’s. “I might play Ankiel there tomorrow, who knows.”