Big hit could be jumpstart for slow-starting Werth

Big hit could be jumpstart for slow-starting Werth

WASHINGTON -- One of the keys to the Nationals' success this season hinges on the health and production of their veteran position players, who struggled to remain on the field last season and struggled to produce when they were in the lineup. Jayson Werth was the embodiment of that problem last season, when a number of injuries limited him to just 88 games and a career-low .685 OPS.

Then he scuffled to an 0-for-13 start to begin this season, raising questions about what Werth, one month shy of his 37th birthday, has left to offer the Nationals. Werth broke out of his slump in the seventh inning Sunday, providing a single to drive in the go-ahead run in Washington's 4-2 victory over Miami. The Nationals are hoping that bloop single can provide a turning point in a bounceback season for Werth.

"Needed to dink one in there to get me going, I guess," Werth said.

The Marlins chose to pitch to Werth in that situation, with the bases loaded in a tie game in the seventh. After Anthony Rendon singled off starter Tom Koehler with one out, Miami called upon left-hander Chris Narveson to face the upcoming pair of Nationals lefties Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. But Harper doubled to put runners on second and third, and Marlins manager Don Mattingly ordered Narveson to walk Murphy intentionally, choosing instead for righty Edwin Jackson to face Werth with the bases loaded.

Werth said he did not feel any slight from this gesture, rather he understood it, considering his struggles at the plate. And he made the Marlins pay, lofting a single that fell in front of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton to cap a six-pitch at-bat and give the Nationals a 2-1 advantage. It was not the hardest-hit ball -- it was measured off Werth's bat at 70 mph -- but it at least provided Werth with some results for the better at-bats he feels he has been taking lately.

"Hopefully that'll get me going," Werth said. "I feel good. I'm healthy. My drills and swings I have been taking are good. I feel all right. My timing has been a little bit off. And I've been moving my hands around a little bit trying to get comfortable up there. It'll come."

The way the schedule plays out in the first week of the season -- with late-afternoon start times for Opening Day and home openers, built-in off-days and a rainout on Saturday for good measure -- can make it difficult for players, especially older players, to find a rhythm. And Werth has also always considered himself a slow starter, joking that he was never a guy who would compete for Player of the Month in April. His .770 career OPS in the season's opening month (March/April) is among the worst months of his career (.767 in June).

"When you're not going good, and things are a little tough, I've been there," manager Dusty Baker said. "It seems like every time I'd get up, there'd be bases loaded or runners in scoring position. That kind of breaks the ice. ... You knew it was going to happen sooner or later. He's had plenty of opportunities with runners in scoring position, and maybe that can get him going and get him hot."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.