Though he felt like he was ready to face big-league pitching again after a three-month recovery from a broken left wrist and a nine-game rehab assignment in the minors, Jayson Werth figured there might be a bit of a transition phase once the Nationals activated him off the disabled list last week.As it turns out, Werth's only transition has been from cautious optimism to downright giddiness after a fantastic re-debut weekend at Nationals Park. In his first four games back, the veteran outfielder is 5-for-12 with five walks, all but erasing whatever doubts there were about his ability to make a smooth return from a devastating injury."I'm surprised," Werth admitted after yesterday's 4-1 win over the Marlins. "The whole thing's very surprising."Not that he didn't expect to ever get his swing back. He just figured it would take a little more time before he felt comfortable facing big-league pitchers again.Werth pointed out he was cleared to swing a bat only about three weeks ago."I kept trying to swing, kept trying to swing, and just wasn't ready," he said. "And then one day I was like: 'Oh, I can swing.' And then two days later I was like: 'I can really swing!'"Werth began his rehab assignment at Class A Potomac on July 21. He wound up playing a total of nine games over 12 days, most of that time spent at Class AAA Syracuse, and about halfway through the process began to feel like his timing at the plate had returned.Even so, Werth figured he would still need more time to get his body (especially his legs) back into full baseball shape."Sometimes that takes a while," he said. "You go to spring training for six weeks, and usually the last week your legs show up. So that's five weeks waiting for it to happen. I think I was out on rehab for two weeks, not even. So my legs are still a little behind. But everything else feels good."It's hard to dispute the on-field results since Werth was activated off the DL. Splitting time between center and right fields, he's recorded at least one hit in all four games he's played. His keen eye at the plate is as sharp as ever, leading to five walks. Perhaps most impressively, he has only struck out once."His every at-bat is good," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's making contact. He's getting the head out. He's always a great defensive player and baserunner."Werth has essentially picked up where he left off upon getting hurt on May 6. In 31 total games this season, he's now hitting .291 with a .400 on-base percentage and .836 OPS.On top of all that, Werth seems as comfortable and relaxed as he's been since signing with the Nationals 19 months ago. Having long since moved past his disappointing 2011, he's become less of a focal point inside a clubhouse that features plenty more prominent names and faces, allowing Werth to be just another member of a first-place club."He's playing the way I always thought he was going to play," Johnson said. "I didn't see that last year. He was trying to be the leader on the ballclub. He had all kinds of different responsibilities. Now he's just being himself."
Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.
Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.
Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.
Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.
Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.
Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.
New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.
A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.
Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.
The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.
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With a win on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals come into the All-Star break at 48-48.
That's not great! It's certainly an underperformance given all the expectations, but the season hasn't been without some stellar individual performances .
Take, for starters, Max Scherzer. Scherzer's on pace to have an even better year than his 2017 Cy Young-winning effort, which is mind-boggling.
An even-more-refined command is what's made him better this season, as his walk rate is down below seven percent again after creeping up to 7.1 last year. It hasn't affected his strikeout rate, either, which has stayed steady at 34 percent. If the season ended today, it'd be the 4th straight year where he set a career-best in that department.
Of all starting pitchers, he ranks second in WHIP, and K/BB percent. He has the third-lowest average against (.178) and third-best strikeout percentage (34.5). He's got a top-10 ERA and FIP as well. He's been the best pitcher in baseball this season, and will probably be in the conversation for N.L. MVP as well.
If only the Nats could just go from Scherzer to Doolittle. The closer stopped walking people, too, and already has 22 saves after ending last year with 24. Had he not been put on the D.L. with a toe injury about a week before the All-Star game, he more than likely would have set his career high in saves before the break.
He's currently on pace to post the second-best year of his career when it comes to strikeouts, too. He's getting Ks 37.1 percent of the time, which would be the highest since he posted a 37.7 in 2014. Same goes for his K/9. He also has a top-10 ERA and FIP. He's been one of the few relief pitchers that have been consistently reliable through the first half, and the Nats will need his toe to get real healthy real quick.
And lastly there's Bryce Harper, who you've surely heard is not having an All-Star caliber season. His batting average is hovering around .200, he's striking out more than he has in four years, and he's getting eaten alive by the shift. He's also on pace to have one of his best power-hitting seasons ever and finish with close to 40 home runs, so even his bad years still find a way to be impressive.
Harper also benefits from being one of the faces of baseball playing in front of his home fans. He's one of the most popular players in the league, and All-Star games find a way to get those people in. An All-Star game in D.C. without him would be objectively less enjoyable, so it was in everyone's interest to have him there. Stars just get the calls sometimes.
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