Werth's workmanlike attitude rubbing off on Nats
As he preps to face old team, slugger tries to change culture in DC
WASHINGTON -- He may only be in his fifth month with the Nationals, but outfielder Jayson Werth has already formed a strong, almost protective, allegiance to his new club.
Take Saturday afternoon at Citi Field in New York. After discussing his Phillies tenure with members of the media, Werth wanted to know if anyone had any questions about the Nats. A reporter mentioned they are on a two-game winning streak.
"Is that a streak?" Werth asked.
"For the Nationals, it is," the reporter responded.
Werth was not happy with the response. After signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals this past offseason, Werth wants to change the perception of a franchise that has finished in last place in the National League East in five out of the past six seasons.
"Unfortunately, I feel that is the expectations of this team -- things like that," Werth said about the reporter's comment. "I feel that is the expectations of the fans, of the media, and that is something I want to change. ... Perception isn't changed overnight. Hopefully this team will be the team that can change the perception in Washington D.C., around the league and around the country. It's going to take winning to change that."
Entering Tuesday's action, the Nationals are 3-4 and in third place in the NL East. Werth is off to a slow start (7-for-35 with a home run and four runs scored), but his numbers don't tell the whole story.
Werth is also a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. His most vivid display of leadership skills occurred in Spring Training, according to multiple sources.
After he was taken out of a game against the Tigers at Space Coast Stadium in mid-March, outfielder Nyjer Morgan -- since traded to the Brewers -- performed three of the six sprints on the outfield warning track and called it a day.
Werth told Morgan to do the rest of the sprints. Morgan declined, figuring he arrived at the ballpark at 5:30 a.m. ET and didn't need to do any more work.
After they went into the locker room a few minutes later, Werth and Morgan got into a verbal argument, with Werth telling Morgan that he needed to continue to do his work.
Jerry Hairston Jr. got involved and was able to calm Morgan down. According to a baseball source, Morgan believes the incident is the No. 1 reason he is no longer a member of the Nationals.
Werth, Morgan, Hairston and manager Jim Riggleman declined to comment on the incident.
"Jayson is a stabilizing effect in the clubhouse," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He is one of the leaders in the clubhouse. He is a veteran presence that knows what it takes to win championships. He brings a no-panic professional style of preparation to the ballclub."
Shortstop Ian Desmond said Werth is one of the reasons he goes all out on a daily basis.
"His presence alone changed a lot of people," Desmond said. "It's more than just Jayson. It's all the guys that they brought in this offseason. It's the fact that these guys have succeeded. I don't want to hold the team back. So I'm doing everything I can to prepare myself and rise to their level. I feel the rest of those guys are doing the same thing. We are a team, and we are going to go out and try to win. We know that in order for us to win, we have to be on the same page."
Werth is used to winning. He is best known for his four years with the Phillies, who won four straight division titles, one pennant and one World Series title. Werth will be facing them for the first time on Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV.
For Werth, he will be happy to see his former teammates, but during the game, it will be all business.
"Once the game starts, the game takes priority. It's business as usual, really," Werth said. "That was one of things I was happy about when I signed in Washington -- being able to play in Philly, for better or for worse. It's not like I felt I was leaving, never to be seen again. It is what it is."
In his four years with the Phillies, Werth had a .380 on-base percentage. Playing consistently, according to Werth, is the reason he was able to get on base so often.
"J-Dub's standing in the way," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've got to get him out. It'll be different. He did a tremendous job for us. He played a big part on our team. He was one of our productive players. He was a part of our success. I think the time I had with him, he worked and he deserved everything he got. He became a very good player for us. He dedicated himself."
Werth credits his success the past four years to Davey Lopes, the former first-base coach of the Phillies who is now in the same role with the Dodgers.
"Davey Lopes wasn't a hitting coach, but he is a baseball coach," Werth said. "He was really good [when it came to] my overall mentality toward the game and how to play the game. He was very instrumental and kind of molded me into the player I became [in Philadelphia]. Out of anybody, I would say Davey Lopes was probably the best coach I ever had. He is awesome."
Werth hopes to bring a winning attitude and those same teachings from Lopes to the Nationals.
"I want to win," Werth said. "I feel we are not far away from it. We have some things to do to get there. No doubt about it. I think the big steps and the big changes here have started going in the right direction. Chemistry is a big part of it. We have chemistry, we have a good group of guys, we have talent. You put that stuff together, you get that ball rolling in the right direction, it's like a snowball effect."
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.