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Nationals’ Jayson Werth on disappointing end to 2016 campaign: “It was right there for us to get...”

Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth on Werth’s 2016 campaign, strong finish to sixth season in D.C.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals - Game Five Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Jayson Werth finished his fourteenth major league campaign and eighth postseason run by going 7 for 18 with two doubles and a home run in the Washington Nationals’ NLDS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The strong showing in the Division Series followed a 2016 campaign which saw the 37-year-old outfielder put up a .244/.335/.417 line, 28 doubles and 21 HRs over 143 games and 606 plate appearances, and finish the season at 1.1 fWAR, up from his -0.3 fWAR campaign in 2015, but down from 4.7 and 5.0 seasons in 2013-14, respectively.

Werth started slowly, but his manager, Dusty Baker, stuck with the veteran outfielder and talked during the postseason about his first year working with Werth.

Baker said he never worried, in spite of Werth’s early-season struggles.

“No, I wasn't worried,” Baker said. “You get worried if a guy gains a bunch of weight or if a guy loses desire, which some players do. Or they either get, you know, tired of pain over the course of time. And I didn't get any of those impressions from him.”

In fact, Baker said, the signs he saw from Werth, in the next-to-last year of the 7-year/$126M deal he signed with the Nationals in 2010, were positive.

“His legs are still good,” Baker said. “I've seen some of the greatest players of all time, when their legs go, they go. And so Jayson still has good legs. He eats as nutritious as anybody on the team. I mean, he's gluten-free, everything, raises his own vegetables and stuff like that. So Jayson Werth, I wasn't real worried about him, because he has a desire to play even after this contract, which I think he can.”

Baker turned once again to his favorite analogy to describe Werth warming up over the course of the season.

“It takes an older guy longer to get it,” Baker explained. “But when they get it, they keep it for a longer period of time.

“It's like a young car versus a new car — versus an old car. A young car you just start and take off, but the old car, you've got to let it warm up and shoot some carbon out and get warm, right? But when that old car starts purring, then it can go as good as the young car.”

Ryan Zimmerman, who struggled during the regular season before a strong postseason run of his own, was asked before the series finale with the Dodgers if he ever worried Werth wouldn’t be able to get it going again.

Zimmerman said he wasn’t surprised to see Werth turn it on late and continue going strong in October.

“I mean, postseason-wise, I think this is kind of par for the course for him,” Zimmerman told reporters.

“He's, I don't know if you want to say one of the best postseason players ever, but he's been in a ton of post-season games, and talk about a guy with big hits, lots of home runs and just big at bats. The postseason I don't think ever really worries you.

“The way he started this year, it's a long season; we play such a long season, and some guys get off to slow starts and some guys, some years, rebound.

“Some years it's a tough year and the next year they have a great year. So it's hard to tell. You don't ever really know.

“He is getting older, but he takes incredible care of his body and he's really in tune with all that kind of stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays for a few more years after this.”

In addition to what he did on the field, Baker said Werth was helpful behind the scenes, in the clubhouse and working with his teammates.

“He's helped me out tremendously,” Baker said. “Because you know, the leaders on your team — as long as they are taking the players in the right direction with them — I've been on many teams that had leaders, and the leaders, they helped me out in as much as I can go to them or they can go to the players before I get to them.

“What they do, what the leaders do, is that they take five, six, seven, eight, ten players, and then that leaves me only half to really manage, you know, a dozen, fifteen players or so. That in itself makes my job easier.

“Like I said, Jayson and I have many conversations. He generally responds positively to conversations, or even sometimes criticism, which is very mature on his part.”

The veteran player/coach has one year left on his deal with the Nationals, and as he explained it during the Nats’ postseason run, he’s still having fun.

“I think after last year, with the injuries, and the way it ended and, you know, I felt like it was just like an opportunity lost,” Werth said.

“With getting Dusty this year and the moves at the deadline, again, I just feel like this is -- you don't always get opportunities. I feel like it got taken away last year, and obviously I can't play this game forever. So I feel like this is -- I feel like this is our chance and I also feel like maybe this is my last chance to do it. For whatever reason, just been having fun.”

The way it ended wasn’t fun, but Werth told reporters after Game 5 that they had an opportunity.

“This one’s tough,” he said. “It hurts. It was a crazy series. We battled. They battled. It was right there for us to get and we just didn’t get it done, man. It sucks.”

Does Werth, who’ll turn 38 next May, have more than one season left in him as his manager and teammates suspect?

Will he get an opportunity to make one more run with the Nationals before his seven-year deal in D.C. is up?