PHOENIX - Just prior to his fifth-inning home run Friday night, Jayson Werth noticed that the bat that he was using had splintered. It was the same bat he’d used for weeks, a much longer life span than most bats Werth handles, and had delivered many big hits over what has been a personal hot stretch.
Werth needed a new piece of lumber, so he called for the bat boy.
“I think his name was Bobby,” Werth said, dropping a “The Natural” reference on everyone. “He ran out the Savoy Special to me and we got it done.”
Did they ever. Werth’s homer traveled 448 feet, according to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, which tied for the longest home run of his career.
“I hit that one pretty good,” Werth said with a smile. “Coming down the end of the season here, you kind of feel like that might’ve been my last one. So that was a good one. I enjoyed that.”
Over the last three seasons, Werth has watched Stephen Strasburg take the mound every fifth day. He’s seen Strasburg’s highs - like his four-hit shutout against the Phillies this August - and he’s seen the right-hander’s lows - like his complete loss of control when he was ejected from his start against the Braves just six days after the complete game against Philadelphia.
Last night, Werth watched Strasburg put the finishing touches on his 2013 season, one that was impressive in a number of ways, but somehow still leaves many people - Strasburg and Werth included - wanting more.
“I still think Stephen’s got a long way to go,” Werth said. “He’s got a while ‘til he’ll reach his ceiling, but he’s young, he’s still learning. But this year’s been good for him. I think it’s been a challenging year, it’s been a trying year for him, and it probably didn’t go exactly the way he wanted it to, but he pitched good. He grew up a lot throughout the year and I think it’s definitely something that he can build on.
“I think he’s got a really high ceiling. I think everybody knows that. Just the time I’ve spent with him, playing with him, he’s got a long way to go to reach what he’s capable of doing, but what he did this year was great. He pitched good. I think there’s a lot more in the tank.”
Wilson Ramos agrees. Ramos has been behind the plate for 18 of Strasburg’s starts this season. While he knows there’s room for the right-hander to grow, Ramos has been impressed with the full body of work and how Strasburg progressed as the season went on.
“Early in the season, remember when I told you guys (that) when he walks one guy he puts his head down? Right now, he’s better,” Ramos said. “He’s aggressive. He finished the season strong because he changed that. For me, that’s what I saw. You know, he threw the ball good, a lot of pitches up in the zone, but that’s not the guy we saw last year and in 2011. Stephen is one of the guys who, all the time, keeping the ball down. That’s the key for every pitcher, when you go to the mound and throw the ball down, you’ll have more opportunity to get guys out.
“Right now, he finished the season strong, he threw the ball good. His curveball’s breaking pretty good, too. For me, that was a pretty good job this year.”
One area the Nationals have worked extensively with Strasburg is holding runners. Strasburg admittedly has been terrible at keeping track of baserunners, and it’s been an issue that pitching coach Steve McCatty has tried to beat into Strasburg’s head, that he needs to vary his times to the plate and limit the action on the basepaths.
Yesterday, Strasburg said he made holding runners a focus, and Ramos was impressed with what he saw from the righty in that regard.
“That’s very important because when they forget the runner, the runner steals the base, single, score a run,” Ramos said. “They need to be smart and try to keep those guys out of scoring position. Today, I didn’t give any sign to him to throw to first base. He did it by himself, so that’s good. He wants to keep that guy at first base, not second base.”
Those who don’t watch Strasburg on a consistent basis might look at his 8-9 record and assume it was a rough season for the Nats’ opening day starter. Win-loss numbers obviously don’t tell the whole story, however, and Ramos says people should look past the statistics when analyzing Strasburg’s season.
“It’s not important too much the numbers right now,” Ramos said. “The most important thing is he knows what he’s doing. He’s focused on something and trying to do that, that’s better than the numbers. When you think about numbers, you don’t have the opportunity to make an adjustment. You try to throw every time perfect. That’s when you lose focus.”