LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Two balls left Champion Stadium off Washington Nationals’ bats this afternoon.
The first came in the second inning when Jayson Werth smacked the first pitch he saw over the right field wall, perhaps benefiting slightly from a heavy wind going out to right. Regardless of whether the long ball was wind-aided, it was a shot, no doubt about that.
Manager Davey Johnson will certainly take the power from Werth, but Johnson couldn’t help but laugh when talking about the homer after the game.
“When has he ever swung at a first-pitch fastball?” the Nats’ skipper joked.
Known as a guy who likes to work pitchers and get deep into the count, Werth’s early aggressiveness was a rarity, but something Johnson wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
“I’d like him to be more aggressive,” Johnson said. “I know he prides himself on taking a lot of pitches and leading the league in pitches taken, but I like to be aggressive. On a ball that has a lot of the plate, I like to see that lumber coming through there. He’s been going after it, and he’s looked awful good to me in batting practice.”
Werth was joined in the homer column by Mark DeRosa, whose most recent regular season homer came all the way back on Apr. 5, 2010.
DeRosa, who likely will be on the Nats’ opening day roster as a utility man and a right-handed complement to Adam LaRoche at first base, has battled a series of wrist injuries the last two years, limiting his playing time and power.
His fourth-inning blast off Braves lefty Jonny Venters fought through the swirling wind and was hit well enough to still clear the fence in left.
“He had everybody laughing (in the dugout). He was (saying), ‘Woah! I’m back!’ ” Johnson said. “He’s been swinging the bat great. DeRosa’s been talking about how he doesn’t belong on this club because all these big guys are hitting home runs, but that was a bullet.”
One of the few negatives today came from shortstop Ian Desmond, who booted an easy ground ball in the third inning off the bat of shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Desmond now has three errors in just two games played, which isn’t a pretty number, but also isn’t one which concerns the Nats brass. It’s still very early.
“He’s so driven,” Johnson said of his shortstop. “He sometimes might take his at-bats to the field, especially down here. You’re concentrating on getting your timing and stroke and everything. I’m not that concerned about it.”
In the second inning, Bryce Harper followed up a sharply hit single to right field by making a baserunning mistake while trying to go first-to-third on Wilson Ramos’ ground ball to the left side. Harper aggressively made the turn around second base, but then tried to slam on the breaks halfway between second and third and lost his footing, making for an easy third out.
“It’s an OK play if you don’t hesitate,” third base coach Bo Porter said. “Once you hesitate, to me, you just go ahead and you stay. But if he was aggressive all the way and he was out, you live with it. You love the aggression, you go, ‘They made a play,’ and he’s out.”
Porter made sure to pull Harper aside and explain that if this was a real game and he was hitting in the seventh spot in the order, the smart play would have been to hold at second in that situation. With the pitcher’s spot in the order due up, as a runner, you don’t want to make the third out on the basepaths and leave the pitcher leading off the next inning.
Dan Kolko was named MASNsports.com’s Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site’s deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the “George Michael Sports Machine” in Washington, D.C.
Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko