The Washington Times - January 26, 2013, 08:03PM

When Jayson Werth made his return to the Washington Nationals’ lineup last August, he was frank about the amount of strength he had regained in his surgically-repaired left wrist. It wasn’t as much as he’d once had, that was clear, but he knew with time it would hopefully all return.

After a winter’s worth of workouts and time away from the grind of the season and the playoffs, Werth arrived at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday for NatsFest feeling that his strength had improved — but was still not all the way back. 


For that, he said, it might take almost another year.

“At the end of the season last year, that was one of things that I was dealing with: strength. I didn’t have the strength,” said Werth, who hit two home runs after his return in the regular season and, of course, a very memorable one in the National League Division Series.

“I’ve been told it’ll come back, it just takes time,” he continued. “The power numbers weren’t obviously there last year, and hopefully it’ll be good this year. They say 18 months (for a full recovery) which would put us past the season, so we’ll see.

“I feel confident that I can play at a high level without a wrist that’s 100 percent. I felt I played pretty good when I came back. I feel if I can play at that level at least, if not better.”

The lack of strength wound up not being too much of an issue for Werth, who was slotted into the leadoff spot when he came off the disabled list following May surgery. He excelled in that role, hitting .312 and getting on-base at a .394 clip after being activated on Aug. 2.

But the Nationals traded for center fielder Denard Span in November and he fills the role of a leadoff hitter better than anyone the Nationals have tried to put there in the past. That frees Werth up to go back to hitting in the middle of the order, where having that strength and the ability to hit for power will be more imperative.

“Jayson did a great job leading off,” said second baseman Danny Espinosa. “He takes a lot of pitches, gets on base at a high clip, (but) he’s a No. 5 hitter. We’re losing a good bat when he’s leading off. So to have Denard up there, to have a high on-base percentage, to have him work counts, take pitches, that’s what we need.”

For Werth’s part, he’s fine with ceding the spot to Span and returning to the place he hit for the majority of his career. As for what place that is exactly, Werth said he plans to toss around a few ideas with manager Davey Johnson.

“I didn’t mind leading off last year,” Werth said Saturday, a sentiment he stated often during the 2012 season. “I thought with the personnel we had it was the best for our team. Obviously if it was up to me I’d want to hit in the middle of the order. It’s the best place for me. But with the guys we had I think just for our team that is what was best for us. That was fine. I was happy to do it. I thought I did a good job.

“But we get a guy like Denard at the top of your lineup, I mean that’s a prototypical leadoff guy. That’s going to be awesome. Where I hit after that, I don’t know. I think I got like five or six different lineups that we can roll out there. We’ll see what Davey wants to do. I feel confident in every one.”

Speaking of that confidence, like almost all of the Nationals’ players at NatsFest on Saturday, Werth had plenty in the team the Nationals assembled for the 2013 season. Asked about the recent moves of the Atlanta Braves, who added BJ Upton and Justin Upton this offseason to their outfield, Werth was blunt.

“I think we got the best team in baseball,” he said. “If that’s your mindset going in, no one else matters, you just have to take care of yourself.

“I thought we were good enough to be world champs last year and our team is better this year. Obviously we dealt with a lot of injuries last year and our bench guys came through and got us to where were going to be. With that said, I think our team is better this year and our bench is still just as good. I like our chances. Obviously anything can happen when you get to the postseason, but you have to get in. And I feel good about us getting in.”