02/18/12 5:40 PM EST
Werth arrives early, feels more at home in '12
After rough first year with Nats, outfielder gets right to work
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Entering his second season with Washington, Werth, 32, said he feels at home when it comes to playing for the Nats. He considers Espinosa and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman good friends. Werth even made himself at home at Nationals Park this offseason, often working out at the stadium.
"Now I live where I play. That's the only difference. That's good. I like it," Werth said. "This is my home. I know everybody in here. I'm comfortable in my surroundings."
It's safe to say that Werth wasn't comfortable for most of the 2011 season. After four productive years with the Phillies, Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals and took a lot of heat for his offensive woes. He hit just .232 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs in 150 games.
It also marked the first time since 2006 that Werth didn't participate in the postseason. He acknowledged that he watched the playoffs, but also spent a lot of time working on his swing.
"I definitely watched everything that went on in the postseason. I missed it. That is a fun experience," Werth said. "These guys on the Nationals are young and hungry. Maybe they can experience it here sooner rather than later. It's why you play the game starting in Little League. It's every kid's dream. That's why you play and that's where you want to be. I was able to experience it from the other side this winter. I was outside looking in. [Playing in the postseason] is what it's all about."
However, Werth saw some silver linings last season. He was healthy all season and the Nationals made improvements on the field. They finished third in the National League East, their highest placing since moving from Montreal after the 2004 season.
"There were no injuries or anything lasting that carried over into the offseason," Werth said. "In that regard, it was a success. That was the biggest thing. People can say what they want about last year. Until you go through it, until you walk into those shoes, I don't know how you could really comment.
"Washington has never had a winning ballclub -- at least not in recent history. We were one game away [from playing .500 baseball]. In my eyes, last year was a semi-success because the direction has changed. We did a full 180. We'll have [manager] Davey Johnson for a full year. Last year was crazy for a number of different reasons."
It was crazy for Werth at the plate last year. Dating back to Spring Training, Werth couldn't find his swing. He had to get used to a new environment. Gone were days when his teammates in Philadelphia could figure out what was wrong whenever he was in a hitting slump.
"Last year was a little odd," Werth said. "You are coming into a new place. I really didn't know anybody, new setting, new everything. ... Bottom line is, my swing was never where it needed to be. It started bad and it didn't get any better. I've been playing baseball since I was 4 years old. I've had really good seasons, I had really bad seasons. I've had average seasons. Last year was just a bad season. Whatever. I'm over it. I'm ready to play ball, play 162 games."
Werth may have struggled, but that didn't stop him from being a great teammate, according to Espinosa. Werth brought a winning attitude inside the clubhouse. Espinosa said that Werth often gave words of encouragement to his teammates.
"He has a great attitude," Espinosa said. "Even with his struggles last year, it didn't bother him. When we won, he was always up in the clubhouse. He would talk to the guys and tell us we need to attack certain stuff. He knows how to win. He has always been on winning teams. He has been around that environment."
Werth is not only looking to have a comeback season at the plate, he is also expected to help lead the Nationals to the postseason. Werth feels positive because Washington upgraded its pitching.
"We improved the pitching staff. We have Stras [Stephen Strasburg] all year. Jordan [Zimmermann] is not on any innings restrictions," Werth said. "Chien-Ming Wang is going to be healthy. We have Gio Gonzalez and we added Edwin Jackson, which I thought was a great pickup. I played with Edwin in L.A. I know what he is capable of. We have a lot to look forward to."
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.