Werth not taking it easy in Grapefruit League play

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - You hear a lot about the hustle Jayson Werth brings to the Nationals, and that quality was never more evident than in the first inning of Thursday night’s St. Patrick’s Day tilt between the Nats and Atlanta Braves.

With one out in the top of the first, and Rick Ankiel on second after legging out a double to left-center, Werth drew a walk from Braves right-hander Tim Hudson. The next batter, Adam LaRoche, hit a hot bouncer that was gloved by first baseman Freddie Freeman, who fired to second to get Werth by a step.

Knowing LaRoche isn’t a fleet runner, and knowing a throw to first could mean an inning-ending double play, Werth made a twisting - but legal - slide into second, disrupting shortstop Alex Gonzalez’s chance of completing the relay to Freeman. Werth corkscrewed across the bag, taking Gonzalez’s legs from under him.

Never mind that it’s a supposedly meaningless spring training game; Werth went all out, like a rookie trying to make a positive impression. It’s refreshing to see a $126 million player playing hard when some veterans might pull up in a self-protective mode during exhibition play.

Too bad I can’t tell you that Werth’s unselfish play kept alive a rally that turned into a big inning and a Washington lead. Hudson got Michael Morse looking at a third strike to end the inning.

Oh, for those of you who keep track of such trivia, the Nats are wearing no green accessories for tonight’s game. The Braves, by contrast, are sporting green caps and there are shamrocks painted between first and second, and second and third bases. Lots of green in the crowd.

Before I sign off, just a note on a weird double play to begin the bottom of the first, a 1-5-1-3 twin-killing. Pitcher Yunesky Maya coaxed a comebacker from Gonzalez after allowing a leadoff double by Nate McLouth. Maya caught McLouth between second and third but, in the ensuing rundown, third baseman Brian Bixler dropped the ball when trying to tag McLouth, who had fallen down. Maya finally completed the putout, then fired across the diamond to LaRoche,who tagged out Gonzalez after he’d wandered too far off the bag. Bet the Braves will be doing some baserunning drills come Friday morning.