ATLANTA — As the Washington Nationals packed up and prepared to go home after a 1-4 road trip through Baltimore and Atlanta, there was one piece of news to uplift them: Jayson Werth is getting close.
The right fielder, who has not played since May 2 with a right hamstring strain, played in his fifth straight rehab game with Single-A Potomac on Sunday and was 2-for-4 with two three-run homers and a walk. He also played all nine innings for the first time.
UPDATE: The Potomac Nationals announced Monday morning that Werth’s rehab assignment with them has been completed.
If he does not suffer a setback between now and when the Nationals open a homestand against the New York Mets on Tuesday, the Nationals expect Werth to be ready to return to the active roster.
“That’ll be a shot in the arm,” said manager Davey Johnson, who has been surrounding Denard Span with bench players for the last week. “He’ll be ready to carry us on his shoulders, I’m sure.”
While the Nationals will still be missing Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos, Ross Detwiler and Ryan Mattheus from their 25-man roster, Werth’s return could be huge for an offense that has languished among the worst in the league for the first two months of the season.
On Sunday, after they posted just five hits for the second straight game, the Nationals’ on-base percentage fell to .287 on the season. They are now the worst in the major leagues in that category — falling behind even the Miami Marlins. Even with Harper out, the Nationals 3-4-5 hitters, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, have carried the lion’s share of what little offensive output the team has.
“It’d be big,” LaRoche said of Werth’s potential return on Tuesday. “Just having him in there, you always hear about guys and their presence in the lineup, but he’s a guy that can wreak some havoc on the bases, great defender and has a knack for getting on base. That’s what we need right now.”
“It’ll be nice to have him back,” Desmond added. “He’s a huge part of our team, as far as leadership, character, things like that. And he can contribute on the baseball field. It’s just a matter of time before we get our pieces back and start playing better.”
If Werth does indeed return on Tuesday, he will have hit .563 on rehab assignment.