- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Noticing that the lights are brighter in the major leagues is not just a saying. It’s fact. Everything in the minor leagues, predictably, is of lesser value. The field not as smooth. The food not as good — if there is any. The scouting reports scarce. The lights dim.

Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth had a strong reminder of minor-league warts during his recent rehabilitation stint. He played three games in Allentown, Pennsylvania for Triple-A Syracuse when the Chiefs visited Lehigh Valley. His next stop was three games in Potomac for the Single-A Nationals. He returned to Washington and the Nationals’ lineup Monday night. Werth had not played a major-league game since June 3.

“You go down and play in the minor leagues and it’s eye-opening,” Werth said. “You forget what it’s like down there. It’s challenging, it’s tough. Conditions are tough. The lights aren’t real bright. There aren’t too many people in the seats. But, you kind of get a sense, you remember why you play the game. You remember why you’re doing this. You start the game as a kid, you turn into a old man, business man, so to speak. You remember you’re doing this because you love to play. You originally started doing this because you love the game. From the first pitch to the last, the game’s pure and it’s awesome. That’s why we do it. It was just great to be back here.”

The Nationals are finally piecing their roster back together. Werth was activated Monday after missing 75 games. Max Scherzer returned the same day from the disabled list after missing two starts. Tuesday, shortstop Trea Turner was activated from the 60-day disabled list. He has not played since June 29.

This reassembling was what Nationals manager Dusty Baker had hoped for. Washington had survived a long portion of the season without big and small parts. Losing Werth and Turner for months were significant blows. Stephen Strasburg went on the disabled list. Bryce Harper flew past first base before landing on the disabled list and remains there. Adam Eaton has been hurt since April. The Nationals have moved through a handful of closers because of injury and ineffectiveness.

Recovering from those injuries, and adding some new ones, has begun to shape what the October roster will look like for Washington.

The rotation appears set. Edwin Jackson has stabilized the back-end of the rotation following injuries to Joe Ross and ineffectiveness from rookie prospect Erick Fedde. In front of Jackson is the Nationals’ pitching power: Scherzer, in line for a second consecutive Cy Young Award, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez (third in the National League in ERA) and Tanner Roark.

The arrival of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler straightened the bullpen. Baker said Tuesday that Madson is expected to join the team Thursday in Milwaukee. Madson was placed on the 10-day disabled list Aug. 17, retroactive to Aug. 14, because of a right finger sprain. The arrival of that trio and emergence of Sammy Solis has pushed viable bullpen options all the way up to the sixth inning. In the playoffs, Baker could start matching up with right-handed Matt Albers or the left-handed Solis early in the game without burning his marquee relievers.

In regard to Harper, Baker didn’t have much of an update. He said the MVP candidate has been working out while waiting for his hyperextended and bruised knee to heal.

“Bryce is improving,” Baker said. “I don’t know to what degree.”

One change that came up Tuesday was the status of middle infielder Stephen Drew. Drew was moved to the 60-day disabled list Monday night to clear a roster spot for the returning players. Baker said Tuesday that Drew “might have to have a procedure done” because of a prior injury “that was years ago” and is not healing. Baker did not specify what the injury is. Drew was initially placed on the 10-day disabled list because of a left abdominal strain. Last season, he dealt with vertigo-like symptoms as a result of an inner ear problem.

Turner’s return, Drew’s problems and Wilmer Difo’s play have changed what is to come for Difo. Difo hit .373 in July, then .320 in August while Turner was on the disabled list. He played a prolific defensive shortstop. Difo also delivered flair that a buttoned-down Nationals clubhouse rarely displays. Baker recently mentioned that he has a mental list of guys who may actually be safe when they call themselves safe during a close play, and a list of those who always claim to be safe. Difo is on the latter. His aggressive baserunning, defense and work at the plate turned what could have been a hole into a strength.

“I was very happy to fill-in and do my job,” Difo said through interpreter Octavio Martinez.

Difo’s future will send him all around the field. He was slated to play right field Tuesday. He can play all three outfield spots and second and third base in addition to shortstop. Baker called him into his office Tuesday to explain how his workload would look going forward.

“The most important thing he told me, he wants me in the lineup one way or another,” Difo said. “Wherever I play, I want to be in the lineup.”

Turner and Werth returning this week allows them to pile up at-bats before the postseason begins. As much as anything, both were just giddy to be back where the lights are brighter. After Werth homered Monday night, he threw his bat, jumped and yelled at the dugout. Afterward, he was given grief for the outburst and referred to as “grandpa” by Scherzer. That’s all better than sitting and watching in what could be his last season in Washington.

“I want to be part of the machine, so to speak, going forward. … I was excited,” Werth said. “I was a little more emotional than usual, whatever.”

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