VIERA, Fla. - His teammates have noticed a change.
“He’s been a different guy,” Ryan Zimmerman said.
His manager is seeing definite improvements.
“That’s the hardest ball I’ve seen him hit since he’s been here and I’ve been here,” Davey Johnson said yesterday.
Heck, even Jayson Werth himself is willing to acknowledge that he’s in a better place this spring training than he was last year at this time.
“A lot’s changed in a year, I’d say,” Werth said.
The 2011 season was certainly one to forget (or burn from the memory bank) for Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals last offseason and then promptly put up his worst campaign since becoming an everyday player in the major leagues.
Known as a guy that excelled at getting on base and driving in runs, Werth didn’t do much of either last year. He hit just .232 and recorded an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of just .719, more than .200 points lower than his 2010 total with the Phillies.
This spring, however, the Nats’ right fielder has found a bit of a comfort zone, and his numbers are coming around. He’s already smacked three home runs this spring (including one which was hit so far yesterday that it may or may not have crash-landed into his truck), is hitting .281 and has an OPS of .999 through 32 at-bats.
“I definitely feel better at the plate this time this year versus this time last year,” Werth said. “I just never really got going in spring training last year and that kind of just carried over to the season. This year coming in to spring training I feel maybe the best I’ve felt going into spring training and that has carried over so, it’s good.”
For Werth, one major difference this spring compared to last is that he doesn’t feel like the new guy on campus. He knows the vast majority of the guys in the Nats’ clubhouse, and has an established camaraderie with his teammates. The 32-year-old has a feel for Johnson and his managerial tendencies. He can joke around and be himself instead of needing to tip-toe through a building and environment which was foreign to him 11 months ago.
“(It’s) probably more (important) than people realize, for me anyways,” he said. “I’m kind of a feel guy. I feel my way in the game, and I feel good. I feel settled. This is home for me now versus coming into last year where I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t really know anybody. Now I kind of feel like this is my team and I’m part of the action here and it’s going to be good in the upcoming years. We’ve got a good rapport with everybody in the clubhouse versus not really knowing anybody. It’s definitely a different feel. It’s a good feeling.”
Opposing pitchers haven’t been feeling all that great when facing Werth this spring. The righty has hits in seven of his last nine Grapefruit League games, and he’s been listening to Johnson’s pleas for him to get more aggressive at the plate, attacking first pitches on occasion. Two of his three home runs have come on the first pitch he’s seen in the at-bat.
“He’s hit the crap out the ball,” Zimmerman said. “I think starting the second half of last year, he really started being the guy that everybody saw in Philly and then what made us go get him. It wasn’t easy for him to come over and have a whole new atmosphere and all that kind of stuff. I think you’re going to see a big-time change this year.”
None of the spring success means Werth is guaranteed to have a bounce-back season or deliver the type of offensive numbers that made the Nats shell out $126 million to go get him. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“There’s years where you kind of have a sense of where you’re at and some years you don’t,” Werth said. “I feel good about this year. I feel good about this team and the direction we’re going. I’m ready to go.”