VIERA, Fla. — Jayson Werth arrived at Nationals camp on Saturday morning, unloaded a few boxes of things that’d been shipped down and held court with the media for about 20 minutes. After a winter’s worth of time to ruminate over the end of the 2012 season, Werth said the sting of Game 5 of the National League Division Series was still fresh for him.
How often, he was asked, did he think about that game?
“Daily,” he said.
“There’s definitely times where it’ll just pop into my head and I’ll just kick something or cuss,” added the Nationals’ right fielder, one of few members of the team who knows what it feels like when a playoff run doesn’t end in disappointment and regret.
“When you’re that close to something, you know, I’m a baseball player. I’ve been playing baseball my whole life. I’ve wanted to do nothing else other than play baseball so: World Series or bust? No (crap). That’s the slogan since I was eight years old. When you get that close and you can taste it and something like that happens, that’s going to stick with you. That’ll probably stick with me until I die. That’s OK. It’s not a big deal. It’s the things that drive you. You wake up in the morning pissed off, ready to go workout, because of stuff like that so it’s just part of being a ballplayer.”
Werth did relent, and offer a slight smile, when he pointed out that his walk-off home run in Game 4 was still pretty “fresh” as well. But he did seem to indicate that the feeling he got from the memory of Game 5 was a positive thing. It could be useful for the 2013 Nationals — a team that prompted Werth to ask “Has there every been a team that’s this complete on paper?” — as they go through the season.
Werth remembered the way Ryan Howard walked around the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse in 2007, after they’d been swept by the Colorado Rockies in the playoffs, and told everyone to remember the way they felt. “Stuff like that sticks with you,” Werth said, and he recalled muttering something similar in the aftermath of the Nationals’ loss. In 2008, the Phillies won the World Series.
But that wasn’t all Werth addressed on his first day. He offered a thoughtful take on Gio Gonzalez being linked to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, and spoke at length about Bryce Harper’s potential and likely position in left field.
“He’s a great player, there’s no doubt,” Werth said of Harper. “He did a great job in center (in 2012), but there are some things he’s got to work on. It’s just a matter of time, though, and when that time comes I’ll move to left and stay there the rest of the way probably, but we’re not there yet.”
Werth has been fairly open about his thoughts on the outfield, particularly since the Nationals acquired Denard Span. He knows that eventually he’ll find himself in left while Harper shifts to right, but for now he sees the added responsibilities of right field as something he’d rather keep than forcing Harper to take on.
“There’s an experience factor to playing the outfield and left is where you can get by with the least amount of experience,” Werth said. “That’s where Bryce is right now. He’s just an inexperienced big league outfielder. It’s not any knock on his ability by any means. He’s extremely talented and I think he is right now a very good outfielder but I think as time goes on he will be even better — and this could happen fairly quickly.
“He could progress at a relatively quick rate like he does everything else. We’ll see. Time will tell. I think it’s more up to him than it is me. I’m not standing in his way by any means. When I mess around with him, I always tell him that the defensive liabilities play left. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Werth and Harper developed their relationship during the 2012 season and Harper lists the veteran as one of the people most integral in his transition to the major leagues. Werth talked Saturday not only of Harper’s ability, but also of his willingness to learn and absorb.
“He’s wide open to it,” Werth said. “He’s hungry. He wants to learn. He’s like a sponge. He takes everything to heart, he really does. All the stuff you read and you hear about him, he really does want to be that good. He’s a fast learner, and he’s still pretty hard-headed at the same time. These things take time and I think as time goes on he’s just going to get better and better.”
One place that Werth did try to keep his comments brief was when asked about the lineup. At the team’s fan fest a few weeks ago, Werth said he had a few lineup possibilities bouncing around his head to discuss with manager Davey Johnson. And Johnson has been joking all week that he’d have to run whatever he decides by the right fielder.
“If Span leads off it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to hit Bryce second,” Harper said, asked if he thought Harper would transition easily to the middle of the lineup. “It probably makes a whole lot of sense to hit him third, but I don’t know what Davey’s going to do and I don’t want to act like I’m making any lineups or anything like that. I’m just talking baseball.
“You look at who are our guys who are going to pinch hit in the ninth hole. Our best pinch hitter’s (Chad Tracy), so then you’ve got left, left, left. Anyway… the possibilities of our lineup are, not endless, but we’ve got some different lineups that are going to be very effective and that’s a good problem to have with the guys we’ve got. Davey will do what’s best for the team for sure. Where I hit, we’ll see. I’ve got some ideas but it doesn’t really matter.”
Werth said his surgically-repaired left wrist is stronger than it was even three weeks ago and while he still doesn’t feel he has all the strength there that he did before he broke it last May, he definitely can see progress and is encouraged by that fact. The strength of his wrist, of course, will play a factor in where he hits in the lineup.
And one of the final topics Werth touched on was sort of an ode to former teammate Michael Morse, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners in January.
“We’re all going to miss Mikey,” he said. “He’s a great player and done a great job for us. You insert Span at the top and I think what it gives us the ability to do is, a lot of games, Mikey would have to get double-switched for and defensive replacement for in the outfield so we could have more speed out there. That to me would probably be the biggest (difference. Yeah you’re going to lose his bat but you’re going to get Span’s bat. It’s a little different there, but when you throw the defense into it, you’re not going to have to double switch, you’re not going to have to use a bench guy, I think that’s an upgrade.
“Not knocking Mikey by any means, but just for our team, that’s an upgrade, and I think that’s probably why (general manager Mike Rizzo) did that, knowing full well that if we ended up signing (Adam LaRoche) that Mikey wasn’t going to be on the team. Again, that’s not a knock on Mikey it just makes our team better.
“We’ll see what happens with Mikey. It’ll be interesting to see if he stays there all year in Seattle or what they do with him, but we’ll all be watching closely. He’ll be missed around here — and not only in the field but in the clubhouse and on the planes and trains and different places where he excelled.”