After missing all of spring training and the season’s first week, Jayson Werth figured both to be in danger of getting off to a slow start and needing more days off than usual while his body got into regular-season shape.
The slow start has indeed happened, but Werth has played more than most would have assumed, including a stretch of 11 straight days in the Nationals’ lineup that finally came to an end Tuesday when manager Matt Williams decided to give the veteran outfielder a chance to take a rest and start rookie Michael Taylor in his place.
“This time of year it’s especially important to be mindful of the long-term progress he’s making,” Williams said. “So just a day today, gives us an opportunity to get Mike in there and get him in left field and get him some at-bats to keep him going, too.”
Werth, who had right shoulder surgery in January, hasn’t quite looked like himself yet since debuting one week into the season. He’s hitting just .176 with a paltry .203 slugging percentage, numbers that had been even worse until he notched a pair of singles Monday night.
Werth, who turns 36 later this month, has noted how many times he has hit a ball hard right at an outfielder. And indeed, there has been some element of bad luck in his performance so far, as evidenced by his .224 batting average on balls in play (more than 100 points worse than his career mark).
“Early on, he wasn’t seeing the ball real well,” Williams said. “You never get enough at-bats in a rehab assignment, anyway. So you kind of anticipate some early struggles, with timing and rhythm and seeing the ball. I think it’s coming, though.”
Some of those hard-hit balls surely will start falling for hits, but there is also a question of Werth’s diminished power. He has only two extra-base hits so far this season (both doubles) and hasn’t hit many balls that have approached the warning track.
The question is whether this is another symptom of his delayed start to the season, or evidence of a more worrisome decline in power.
“I think that will come, too,” Williams said. “That comes with rhythm, and that comes with timing. If you’re not seeing the baseball the way you want to see it, then the breaking ball looks bigger and better, the fastball jumps on you. But once that rhythm calms down and he’s able to get comfortable in that regard, then it’ll come, too. He’ll be able to catch those hanging breaking balls and put them over the fence, or the ahead-in-the-count fastball, he’ll be able to turn on that, too. It will come, but it takes time.”