Jayson Werth returned from a 75-game absence (for a fractured bone in his foot) to go 2 for 4 with a homer in the Washington Nationals’ 11-2 win over the Miami Marlins late last month in the nation’s capital.
Following a day off, he played in four consecutive games, and seven of the next eight, but with his shoulder barking, (the result of a hit-by-pitch during his rehab stint), Werth was once again out for a week before Dusty Baker penciled the 38-year-old back in the lineup for the second game of three with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night in D.C.
Baker said he was relieved to have the veteran outfielder available again after giving him time for the shoulder to heal.
“Very relieved,” Baker said. “Because it’s going to take some time to get his timing and stuff and hopefully nothing else goes wrong and we start getting some of these guys back in time to get them back to top competitive form and shape.”
Washington’s skipper did, however, acknowledge that he didn’t know if Werth, who’s played right in Bryce Harper’s absence, is completely past the shoulder issues.
“That I don’t know,” Baker told reporters.
“You never know, you can take a bad swing or headfirst slide, so I just urged him to play hard but play smart, I urged them all to do that.”
Slowly, but surely, the Nationals are getting all their weapons back in the lineup with Michael A. Taylor back in the swing of things, Trea Turner heating back up, and Werth once again in the lineup.
Now, Baker said, they just have to get everyone back up to speed, and ready for the last few weeks of the regular season and the postseason.
Werth, he acknowledged, looked great in the first game back, but not quite as good in his subsequent appearances. Was it the shoulder acting up in the games that followed his big return?
“It probably had something to do with it,” Baker said. “I mean, he’s been hitting a lot, he just couldn’t run, where Trea could run but he couldn’t hit. And so now he’s well.
“Next step is to get Jayson 100% and sharp and then hopefully there’s time to get [Brian Goodwin] right,” Baker added, “because we miss Goody, and then nobody else goes by the wayside.”
You’ll note there that Baker wasn’t ruling out the possibility of Goodwin (groin injury) returning in time to contribute down the stretch.
As he said in an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday, however, he’s never really made it through the regular season without any injury concerns.
“I’ve never gone into the playoffs with nobody hurt,” Baker said. “If you’re not hurt with something that means you haven’t played very much. And so you want them feeling at least rested, that’s what I think, but I’ve seen players rust out vs wear out too, so you want them ready, it’s going to be a fine line, but then you want to keep your extra guys that got you here in the first place, while those guys were hurt, you want to keep them sharp too.”
Baker will have to find the balance over the next few weeks, then make the decisions on which players he keeps for the NLDS.
Werth, in the celebration after the Nationals’ clinched the NL East for the fourth time in six seasons, talked about wanting to achieve in D.C. what he set out to do when he signed on in Washington in the winter of 2011: Bring a World Series championship to the nation’s capital.
“That’s why I signed here, man,” Werth told MASN’s Dan Kolko. “I think the only games to play are in October.
“We’ve given ourselves a chance, we got to win the games, we’ve got to go out there and do it, it’s on us, so it means more than anything to bring a championship home to my home town, I live here now, these are my people, this is my team, and I want to be part of the group that wins a World Series.”
“Whether I’m here next year or not,” Werth said at another point in the interview. “I think I leave this place much better than when I got here, and I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of all these guys, and I’m proud of this organization.”
Baker is just happy to have his veteran outfielder back in the lineup. Werth went 1 for 3 in his return.
“He looked good,” Baker said. “Looked real good. So hopefully he can just build on that and really start rolling here.”