Werth likely to miss weekend series (with notes on Harper, Espinosa, LaRoche)

PITTSBURGH - Tonight's game will mark the third in the last four days that Jayson Werth has needed to sit out due to injury.

Werth will likely miss the Nationals' next two games, as well.

Manager Davey Johnson said that Werth's tight right hamstring will probably keep him out of the Nationals lineup through the end of the three-game series against the Pirates that starts tonight. The Nationals have an off-day on Monday, so if Werth doesn't play at all this weekend, he could go into Tuesday's game against the Tigers with four full days of rest.

werth-at-first-with-helmet-white.jpgWerth initially felt his hamstring cramp up during Monday's game against the Braves. He tried to play through the discomfort and then fouled a ball off his ankle later in that game. The combination of the two injuries kept him out the next two games. Werth was in the lineup last night against Atlanta, but felt the hamstring tighten up in the fourth inning when reaching down to pick up a Freddie Freeman single. He left the game after the end of that half-inning.

"I think it got tight and scared him again," Johnson said. "Hopefully he just nipped it in the bud before he pulled it or anything and he can get the tightness out of there. He was feeling good before he had to stretch for that ball. Hopefully it's nothing more than loosening it up and stretching it. ...

"He was getting treatment today. Hopefully it's going to come along and he'll be ready when we get home."

The good news with Werth is that the hamstring is just tight and not considered a pull, which could require him to sit out for a longer period. Johnson said the Nats remain confident that Werth will be able to avoid the disabled list, unlike Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos, who both landed on the DL recently with hamstring injuries.

Bryce Harper, meanwhile, will continue to play through a bad bruise on his left side, an injury that caused him to leave Wednesday night's game in the sixth inning.

"He feels OK," Johnson said. "I'm sure it's going to, you know, it takes a while for that bruise to get out of there, but he gets treatment every day. He was here early today, so I think he's good to go. And it's going to help because I think the weather, it's going to be close to 70, I guess, every day we're here. And we've got a couple day games the next two days, so that'll be good."

Harper is playing left field tonight while Tyler Moore makes his first career start in right. Johnson said he went with that alignment because left field here at PNC Park is pretty spacious, while there's a short porch in right. Harper is better off handling the roomy confines in left, while Moore can handle the easier assignment in right.

Johnson had started Steve Lombardozzi at second base the last two games, and Lombardozzi had gone 1-for-8 with a walk and an RBI in that stretch. Tonight, Johnson has gone back to Danny Espinosa, and it sounds like he plans to stick with the switch-hitting Espinosa - who is a better hitter from the right side - for the entirety of this series in an attempt to get him going.

"I had a conversation with him, a good conversation with him the other day," Johnson said. "He has such a high ceiling and I want him to relax and not try to do too much. This is going to be a good series for him. He's got a right-hander today and then a couple good left-handers. So as long as he stays within himself, doesn't expand, doesn't swing at balls out of the zone, I expect him to have a good series."

Espinosa has a slash line of .173/.212/.33 this season, while Lombardozzi's slash line is .224/.255/.286. Neither guy is doing much offensively. Johnson, for what it's worth, doesn't plan on naming a set starter at the position, but seems intent on trying to let Espinosa play out of his slump.

"My job here is to have all 25 guys doing the things I know they're capable of doing," Johnson said. "Danny's not doing the things he's capable of doing. Shoot, Adam LaRoche isn't doing the things he's capable of doing. But I know that they're eventually going to get to that point where they start getting comfortable with themselves and their confidence is there. And that's my job. If I don't keep giving those opportunities to guys I know that are capable, I'm not doing my job."

Speaking of LaRoche, Johnson said that he's seen improvements in his first baseman's approach the last few days. LaRoche went through an 0-for-26 stretch that didn't include a walk, and admitted that he felt "lost" during that span. Over his last four games, LaRoche has just two hits, but one of them was a double and he's walked twice. He's also hit a handful of balls hard that have been caught.

"I think he feels a lot better about where he's at," Johnson said. "He's hit some balls awfully hard the last few days. Even his batting practice is a lot crisper and he's been driving the ball, hitting the ball harder in BP. When he's serving the ball to left field, he's not Adam. But when he turns on the ball and starts hitting bullets this way, I know he's starting to feel pretty good about his approach and the way he's seeing the ball and his timing is there."

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