04/04/2013 9:21 PM ET
Werth's return to power a work in progress
By Andrew Simon / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- After suffering a broken left wrist last May 6, Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth returned to the lineup a different hitter. With his strength not all the way back, Werth cut down his swing over his final 54 regular-season games, hitting .312 with a .394 on-base percentage, but only two home runs.
That break was the second major injury to strike Werth's left wrist -- he had surgeries on it in 2005 and '06 after being hit by a pitch -- and those setbacks have taken their toll.
"I don't feel like my wrist will ever be the same," Werth said before Thursday's 6-1 win over the Marlins. "I had three surgeries and got a titanium plate and three screws and eight pins. It'll never be how it was in '04 before I hurt it the first time. But I continue to deal with it and work with what I've got, and I feel strong. It feels good. I don't really see it being a problem."
The 33-year-old went 0-for-8 with two strikeouts in the Nationals' first two games, with manager Davey Johnson saying that he was having trouble staying on top of the ball and possibly feeling the effects of Washington's early-season cold weather. But Werth went 2-for-4 on Thursday, including a three-run homer in the seventh inning that flew more than 400 feet, over the left-field bullpen.
That shot, off a 93-mph fastball from lefty Mike Dunn, provided a possible answer to the big question hanging over Werth this season. That concerns his ability to supply power, something that typically suffers when players sustain wrist injuries.
After returning from his first setback in 2007, Werth hit eight home runs in 94 games for the Phillies. He then averaged 27 over the next four years before sliding back to five in 81 games last season.
"I think each year, regardless of injury, you kind of mold into a different form, almost," Werth said. "Some guys are different. Some guys are fortunate enough to play at a really high level every year. But even then, you still go through ups and downs. The game's always adapting to you, and you're always adapting to the game, so it's never a constant."
As Werth pointed out, he did manage to hit a crucial home run in the 2012 postseason, connecting on a walk-off shot in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals. Might that, combined with Thursday's blast, be a sign of things to come in '13?
"It's yet to be seen, but I feel like I have the type of power I've had in the past," he said.
Nats starters give relievers more than enough rest
WASHINGTON -- One of the Nationals' greatest strengths can present a problem for some of the team's relief pitchers, but it's a good problem to have.
Washington's stellar starting rotation is capable of mowing down opposing lineups and eating innings in bunches. Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez combined for 13 scoreless innings against the Marlins in the first two games, leaving minimal work for the bullpen.
Entering Thursday's series finale, three of the team's relievers had not yet appeared: right-handers Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez and lefty Zach Duke -- the bullpen's only southpaw.
"I can't say it's a bad thing we're doing that because we're winning, and they're pitching deep into games, which is what they want to do and actually what we want them to do," Stammen said. "The less I pitch, probably the better off our team is.
"I don't think about it too much. It's not too much of a challenge. I just have to be ready when my number gets called."
Stammen is one of manager Davey Johnson's first options for picking up multiple innings in relief. Last year he threw 88 1/3 innings across 59 appearances, going 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA.
Stammen hasn't pitched since his final Grapefruit League outing on March 28, a week ago. Since then, he has thrown some short side sessions and kept up with his conditioning, but said that's "no substitute for game action."
"You're kind of champing at the bit," he said. "You want to get out there and get the first game out of the way, because the first game is always different."
Reliever Rodriguez sharp in season debut
WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson didn't hesitate to turn to right-hander Henry Rodriguez against the top of the Marlins' lineup on Thursday, when his team carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning.
Rodriguez replaced starter Jordan Zimmermann and responded by setting down Miami in order in his first appearance of the season, after claiming the final spot on the Nationals' Opening Day roster.
"That's going to be his role, setting up, late-inning relief," Johnson said. "If he's on the ballclub, I'm using him. And he threw the ball good. One-two-three, can't beat that."
Rodriguez battled both wildness and injuries in the past. Last year, he issued nearly seven walks per nine innings and had season-ending elbow surgery in August, after starting out as Washington's closer and picking up nine saves.
The 26-year-old also dealt with right forearm tightness this spring and didn't secure a place on the 25-man roster until a strong outing in last Friday's exhibition game against the Yankees.
Rodriguez backed up that decision on Thursday. He induced a pair of routine outs from Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco and struck out slugger Giancarlo Stanton looking on a slider that started away and sliced over the plate.
Rodriguez's usual high-90s fastball topped out at 95 mph -- Johnson suggested the cold weather might have been a factor -- but the clean 12-pitch frame suggested he could be another weapon for the Nationals' loaded bullpen.
"He threw some good pitches," Johnson said. "He made progress all spring."
Washington's relief corps finished the three games against Miami with eight scoreless innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out eight. Last season, the bullpen ranked third in the National League in ERA, and in the offseason added closer Rafael Soriano, who saved the first two games.
Nats beef up player evaluation system
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals on Thursday announced a new partnership with Bloomberg Sports to design "a state-of-the-art player evaluation system" for the team's baseball operations department.
General manager Mike Rizzo expressed excitement about the new system, which will combine scouting data, video and statistics. Rizzo described it as, "like our current database, microwaved."
"We did a lot of research on it, and I think it's a valuable tool for us," Rizzo said. "It's incredibly comprehensive and it's something that's easy access.
"I think it's probably more an ease of application than it is more information. We've always had this information, but we had to grab it from different barrels. This is all one-stop shopping. … It's incredible."
The team's scouts will be able to access the new system from their laptops, iPads and smart phones.
"We have some veteran guys who are a little intimidated by it, but if I can figure it out, they'll be able to figure it out," Rizzo said.
• Johnson said that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been able to play deeper this season due to improvement in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Johnson estimated that Zimmerman now has "maybe another yard range."
Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.