VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 28: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Space Coast Stadium on February 28, 2012 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Since Jayson Werth and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo denied reports that they had joked about their disdain for the Washington Nationals' NL East rivals from Philadelphia, the first thing the Nats' new $126M dollar outfielder did on the record last year to endear himself to fans in the nation's capital who'd just spent four years cheering against him when he played right field for the Phillies, was to stand up to a PA-based "television reporter," (as he was described), who asked Werth about his decision to leave the winners of four-straight division titles for the perennial doormats from D.C. When the reporter commented on the fact that the Nats had won two in a row, calling it a streak, the then-31-year-old outfielder, who was coming off a 46 double, 27 HR, .296/.388/.532, +4.2 fWAR 2010 season, snapped back (as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore and others reported at the time):
"'Two?' Werth asked. 'Is that a streak?'"
"'For the Nationals,' the reporter replied, 'it is.'"
"'I don’t like your tone,' Werth said."
The nation's capital's Nats welcomed the Phillies to Nationals Park for the first time last year just days after the exchange between Werth and the reporter took place and made headlines. Werth's new team dropped two of three to the visiting Phillies, but the right fielder's solo HR off former teammate Joe Blanton in the fifth inning of the first game ended up being the eventual winning run in a 7-4 decision. Werth went 3 for 11 with a double and a HR in the three-game series.
The next time Werth really spoke up it was after a dispiriting five-game losing streak that culminated in a three-game sweep on the road at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Nationals lost five-in-a-row on a 1-7 trip that left them seven games under .500 at 21-28 on May 25th. Werth said things had to change. "I've got some ideas obviously, and some thoughts," Werth told reporters at the time, "None I really want to share with the world. I think it's pretty obvious what's going on around here." Then-Nats' skipper Jim Riggleman spoke to Werth about his comments, and told reporters afterward, "[Werth's] been around a lot of winning and we're not winning right now. I think there are other players who are frustrated, and Jayson is becoming one of the voices of the ballclub, with his experience in the game and he expressed that frustration."
Asked for specifics when he returned home to Washington after making the comments, Werth told reporters at the time, as recounted by CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman in an article entitled, "Riggleman clears air with Werth", that "'There's more to it than [just needing to win games],'":
"'If you want to start talking about it, we can talk about it. I mean, why doesn't Teddy get to win? There's a lot of things I said I had on my mind. There's things we need to change. It's not just one thing. It's not just two things. There are some things going on that I see that need to be changed in order for us to win ballgames.'"
The Nationals would go 17-9 over the next twenty-six games, and after a 1-0 win over the Seattle Mariners on June 23rd the Nats were a game above .500 at 38-37 when Riggleman abruptly resigned as the manager. "It's not going to change anything in here," Werth told reporters including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, who quoted the outfielder in an article entitled, "Nationals players react to Riggleman resignation", explaining that though the manager would change, "'We're the ones that have been making the pitches and hitting the balls and winning the ballgames, so we're going to keep going,'"
Werth continued to struggle offensively, however, with a .223/.326/.390 line at the end of June, and he heard some boos at home during a 4th of July game in Nationals Park. The outfielder's response was to keep plugging away and he ended up winning the holiday game against Chicago by walking to start the 10th inning of a 4-4 game, taking second on a bunt, stealing third and scoring the winning run on a walk-off wild pitch. "'Cheer me, boo me, whatever,'" Werth told NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman after the game, "'I'm still going to go out there and play my game. Winning ballgames is the most important thing.'"
Winning ballgames. Changing the culture in the nation's capital. Werth's message got through to his teammates. "[Werth's] kind of brought a fresh new attitude to the clubhouse," Nats' closer Drew Storen said during an early May MLB Network Radio interview. "He brings the winning attitude," Danny Espinosa said in his own MLB Network interview. "'He brings a winning attitude,'" Nats' 1B/OF Michael Morse told SI.com's Mel Antonen in an article entitled, "Nats exceeding expectations, but waiting for Werth to do his part." "'He may be off to a slow start,'" Morse continued, but "'... you'd never know it by watching him. He's a great guy to have around.'''
Before the season was over he even got around to fixing the situation with Nationals Park's in-game entertainment, leading an insurrection that had Nats' players interrupting a Presidents Race in an attempt to let Teddy win as Werth had suggested earlier in the summer. Werth, Rick Ankiel and members of the Nationals' bullpen interfered with the race, keeping the other Racing Presidents from beating Teddy Roosevelt and eventually Werth crossed the finish line himself in front of a stunned home crowd as the first non-big-headed President to claim a victory.
Afterwards, Werth fired off what was probably the funniest line a player has ever uttered, telling reporters, as quoted by the Washington Times' Amanda Comak, "'Well, if Teddy can't win, then no one wins in my book. I'm the last remaining member of the Bull Moose Party, I guess. I don't really know what else to say.'" Werth worked to change the culture in the nation's capital, but he finished the first year of his seven-year deal with a .232/.330/.389 line, 26 doubles, 20 HR's and +2.5 fWAR. When he arrived in Florida this Spring, the first thing Werth told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore in an article entitled, "Jayson Werth reflects on his first Nationals season: ‘That expectancy of losing is no longer’", was that he'd moved past the previous season which he said didn't define him as a player and finally felt comfortable. "'Yeah, it’s a lot different,'" Werth told the WaPost reporter, "'Different feel. I know everybody. I’m home, you know?'"
Werth is happy enough in the nation's capital that he talked reliever Brad Lidge into joining him in Washington this winter. The veteran reliever, in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, said Werth was determined to get back to doing what he knew he could do. "There's a lot of things that [go] into Jayson Werth besides his statistics," Lidge said, "I personally would be very surprised if his numbers aren't a lot closer to Philadelphia-type numbers this year." The Bill James is projecting a .259/.360/.451 line for Werth in 2012.
The outfielder missed workouts this week with back spasms. When reporters tried to ask the outfielder how his back felt, Werth responded, "I don't care," before walking away the WaPost's Mr. Kilgore reported, though the writer later noted on Twitter (@AdamKilgoreWP) that players often "clam up" when talking about injuries. Werth missed a few workouts as a precaution, but was back on the field today according to reports from the Nats' Spring home. The humorously belligerent demeanor is apparently just Jayson Werth being Jayson Werth. What's Werth rebelling against? Whaddaya got?