VIERA, Fla. - It's been a little more than 10 months since Jayson Werth broke his left wrist sliding for a ball in right field during a game against his former team.
Since that May 6 game against the Phillies, Werth has rehabbed the wrist, returned to a major league diamond and shown that he can still produce at a high level even without being 100 percent healthy.
Following his return last season, Werth hit .312 with two home runs, 16 doubles, 19 RBIs and a robust .394 on-base percentage in 54 games, most of which saw him atop the Nationals lineup in the leadoff spot. His new position in the batting order partly contributed to Werth's low power numbers, but so did his wrist.
Werth has been told by doctors that it will take 18 months for his wrist to be back to its pre-injury form. He returned to the Nats lineup last summer just three months after suffering the injury, knowing full well that he didn't have the strength in the wrist to turn on pitches and drive them like he was used to.
This spring, Werth has started to feel that strength slowly come back. He still admits that the wrist has a ways to go, but seems to feel like things are moving in the right direction.
"Yeah, it feels better. It feels good," Werth said. "BP's been good, but that's not a real good test. Time will tell, but again, they've given me a date that's after this season where it will be fully healed. So there's still a rehabilitation side of it that we're dealing with. It's fine, it's just how's it going to deal with the daily grind of the season and all that. Yet to be seen. I feel good about it, though. Pretty positive about it."
Werth switched bats when he came back last season, using a model called the H176 that was about an ounce lighter and has a smaller head than the bat he normally uses, opting for a more balanced bat that he could control through the strike zone. His plan of attack at the plate also changed at times, as well.
"I remember early on last year when I came back, I was just trying to stay short, stay compact, stay up the middle," Werth said. "Not really looking to drive a ball or blast a ball as much, just because I knew it wasn't really strong enough to do that. You don't really (change your approach much), but there's times that you get into a spot where you're looking to blast a ball, and it didn't really play into my approach last year as much as it has in the past."
This spring, Werth has been testing out different bats, seeing what he feels comfortable with. He isn't sure whether he'll return to using his old, heavier, larger bat, but feels like he's more capable of handling it than he was late last summer.
Thus far this spring, Werth has five singles in 19 at-bats (.263) with four strikeouts. Two of those Ks came in his first two plate appearances of spring, when Werth barely took the bat off his shoulder.
Early in spring, the 33-year-old likes to build very slowly, and that often means he enters live batting practice sessions or early Grapefruit League at-bats with a specific purpose of just tracking pitches, seeing how the ball is coming in and getting his timing down. His first time in live BP this spring, Werth didn't take a single swing, but as the weeks have gone by, the timing has started to improve to the point Werth is letting it rip more during games.
"When I got hit on the wrist in the first (spring) game in '05, that kind of slowed me down early on in camp," Werth said. "As I've gotten older, it just kind of depends on how I feel. Some years I feel better, some years I'm not ready to swing. I'm just trying to take my time and get ready appropriately. It's going to come. I've just got to stay with my approach and continue to do the things I've always done. As the at-bats ramp up, I think the timing will get better and you're in position to swing more offseason.
"Some guys that live where it's warmer and have been outside taking BP and all that, they're a little bit further along than someone who lives somewhere cold and doesn't get outside and hit a whole lot. You can take all the swings you want, but for me, the timing of it is what comes last, and that's being able to see a ball and put a good swing on it. So until I feel comfortable with my timing, I'm in no real hurry to swing."
Manager Davey Johnson has indicated that Werth will almost certainly be hitting second in the batting order to open the season, a spot in which Werth won't need to crush 30 home runs or drive in 110 runs. In the No. 2 spot, Werth can see lots of pitches and use his high on-base percentage skills to help set the table for Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche behind him.
With each week that goes by, however, the wrist seems to be slowly improving, allowing Werth to inch closer to full strength and start seeing those power numbers rise again.
"I wish I didn't have to go through those injuries, but you can't do anything about that," Werth said. "It would be a whole lot easier not to go through that stuff, but that's part of the game. You've got to deal with it and get on with it. I'm fine, I'm OK with it. I just wish it never would have happened. But we'll be all right."