The Washington Times - March 25, 2012, 06:52PM

VIERA, Fla. — It didn’t take long to know that Space Coast Stadium wouldn’t hold the 2-0 pitch Jayson Werth connected with in the first inning Sunday. As it lofted into the air toward left field, the only real question was how far would the blast carry.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson called it “the hardest ball I’ve seen him hit since I’ve been here.” 

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And maybe, just maybe, Werth might have the evidence to prove it. 

Rumor, or, as Werth called it, “folklore,” was that the ball hit Werth’s own truck.

“That’s usually where it’s parked, over in that direction,” Werth said. “I’ve got to go out there and check it out. If it is dented or smashed or cracked, shattered, I kind of foresee it staying that way for a while.”

But the home run, while an enjoyable moment for Werth and his teammates to revel in, was also somewhat indicative of how Werth has been both playing and feeling this spring.

“He’s been a different guy,” said teammate Ryan Zimmerman, the man standing on second base when Werth’s home run went over. “He’s hit the crap out the ball.”

A few weeks ago, when Werth arrived at spring training he discussed the 2011 season for what he said would be the only time. It was the past, he said then, and he didn’t intend to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it or talking about it. 

Werth admitted then that comfort level can have a lot to do with results — for him at least — and last year it took him a while to find that place. He came into this spring feeling “maybe the best I’ve felt going into spring training,” and that has continued.

“I’m kind of a feel guy,” Werth said. “I feel my way in the game and I feel good. I feel settled. This is home for me now versus coming into last year where I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t really know anybody, now I kind of feel like this is my team and I’m part of the action here.”

“It wasn’t easy for him to come over and have a whole new atmosphere and all that kind of stuff,” Zimmerman said. “I think you’re going to see a big-time change this year.”

Count Zimmerman among several, including Johnson and Werth himself, who feel Werth is primed to have a good season. After a 2011 in which most would likely prefer to forget, the Nationals are certainly hoping for it and counting on it.

“I would think if you asked (Johnson) every spring training about this time he’d probably give you the same answer,” Werth said, when told about Johnson’s assessment. “With that said, I do agree with him.

“There’s years where you kind of have a sense of where you’re at and some years you don’t. I feel good about this year. I feel good about this team and the direction we’re going. I’m ready to go, really. I told somebody today I needed 15 more at-bats. I think I got five (Sunday). I need 10 more at-bats now and I’m ready so I’ll stay with that thought.”

If the Nationals don’t get Michael Morse back healthy before Opening Day, Werth would most likely slot in as the Nationals’ cleanup hitter. That’s a designation he’s fine with.

“That makes sense,” Werth said. “That’s no problem. If my swing is good, I can hit anywhere in the lineup. If my swing’s not good it doesn’t really matter… I’ll feel good about being anywhere as long as I’m in the lineup.”