Werth's passion garners teammates' respect
Nationals outfielder returns to form on diamond while leading in clubhouse
WASHINGTON -- Talk to Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth about his future in baseball and he is confident that he will not be retired by the time he becomes a free agent in 2017. Werth will be 38 by then, but don't tell him he will be past his prime.
"Time will tell," Werth said. "But in my heart, I feel like I have a lot of things to prove and a long way to go."
Werth has nothing to prove to his current teammates. This past Tuesday, for example, they received their ballots for Comeback Player of the Year Award, and to first baseman Adam LaRoche, it was a no-brainer who should win the award.
Look at Werth's numbers and one could understand why LaRoche feels so strongly about voting for his teammate.
After missing 81 games because of a broken left wrist and not showing much power last year, Werth has carried Washington's offense most of this season. He is one of the reasons the Nats still have an outside chance of capturing the second and final National League Wild Card spot. They enter play on Friday five games behind the Reds.
Entering Friday's action against the Marlins, Werth ranks in the top five in the NL in OPS, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Werth and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen are the only NL players to rank among the top five in each of those categories.
"We wouldn't be where we are without Jayson," LaRoche said. "Most likely guys would be packed up, have plans after their last day of the season. I don't think we would be near this thing, even though we have some work to do. He kept us afloat -- between him and the pitchers and one or two other guys periodically. Now you are seeing when you get some guys going along with him, you are seeing what this team can do. He has been the heart of it all year."
General manager Mike Rizzo took what LaRoche said even further, calling Werth one of the MVPs in the NL.
"I definitely think he is the MVP of the team, but I think he is going to get MVP votes in the league," Rizzo said. "That's how well he has played."
Werth made some adjustments to his batting stance this year. To start the season, he felt he wasn't driving the ball enough, so he decided to raise his hands higher while in the batter's box. It helps him get to the ball quicker.
"I didn't feel like I was really driving the ball like I was capable of," Werth said. "I put [my hands] where they were my whole life. I really went back to my natural stance. I can show you video when I was 14, and that was my set-up.
"This game adjusts to you, and you adjust to the game. I was making an adjustment because I wasn't where I wanted to be and I wasn't driving the ball. I made the adjustments and started driving the ball."
Werth's bat, however, isn't the only reason he is having a solid season, According to LaRoche, Werth is solid in right field and is one of the best baserunners in the league.
"Defensively, he has been solid, he is one of the best baserunners you can find as far as being smart," LaRoche said. "Knowing the situations out there, Jayson has taught a lot of guys in the clubhouse a lot of things about base running."
Werth is most helpful to the young players such as Bryce Harper, who calls Werth "his older brother." Harper admits there are days he wants to hug Werth and days he wants to kill him.
"That's how it is. He is an unbelievable teammate. He does things the right way every day," Harper said. "You can learn a lot from him every single day. I try to do that from the outfield to baserunning to facing pitchers. I take something from him every day, even if it's good or bad. He would tell me I look [bad] today. The next day I look fine. That's how he is."
Werth is known to sometimes show "tough love" towards his teammates. Take the incident on Aug. 13 between Werth and left-hander Gio Gonzalez. During the Nationals' 4-2 victory over the Giants, Gonzalez found himself in a heated argument with Werth in the middle of the first inning.
Werth was upset that Gonzalez didn't get to first base in time for a potential inning-ending double play after Buster Posey hit a grounder to LaRoche at first base. Neither Werth nor Gonzalez were willing to talk about the fracas. But anyone who knows Werth realizes that he wants baseball to be played the right way.
"It's a little bit different," Harper said. "He tells me the real stuff at the real time, not beating around the bush. He really tells me how it is. Of course, he will tell me when I'm doing good and when I'm doing terrible. That's just how it is. I love Werth, everything about him is great. He has been around the game a long time. He knows a lot about this game."
Baseball, Werth admits, is his life. He has fond memories of playing Wiffle ball in his grandfather's back yard. Werth said Ducky Schofield, a 19-year veteran in the big leagues during the 1950s and '60s, took baseball seriously and Werth followed in his footsteps.
"He always took baseball very seriously and that was his life," Werth said. "Since I was a very small playing Wiffle ball in his back yard, I wanted to do nothing but play baseball. That's my life. That's it. I have nothing else."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.