The Nationals didn't give Jayson Werth $126 million for the next seven years to be a gritty ballplayer, be good in the clubhouse or bring any other intangible characteristic they've touted about their new right fielder. They paid him because for the last three years in Philadelphia, he drew walks, hit homers, stole some bases and played a solid right field. And in his first season as one of the game's richest ballplayers, Werth is putting up some of the worst numbers of his career.
He entered Monday's game against the Cubs hitting .223/.326/.382, having possibly hit a low point this weekend. He went 0-for-3 on Saturday, striking out twice and getting booed by the Nationals Park crowd in the team's 4-3 win over the Pirates. And on Sunday, he was 0-for-2 before getting hit with a pitch and leaving the game in the sixth inning.
But on Monday morning, Werth texted manager Davey Johnson to let him know he wanted to be in the lineup against the Cubs. And at the end of a day where he'd elicited more boos, Werth showed some of the other reasons the Nationals felt comfortable paying him.
He threw a strike to home plate in the sixth inning to nail Carlos Pena at the plate and help keep the Cubs to a run in an inning where they had three hits. And in the 10th inning, Werth drew a leadoff walk against Marcos Mateo. When Mateo came out of the game a batter later, the Cubs put closer Carlos Marmol in the game. Werth broke for third before Marmol released his first pitch. And when the right-hander threw one of his big-breaking sliders away from catcher Geovany Soto, it was Werth on his way home with the winning run.
"It was a good win," Werth said. "It's baseball. Cheer me, boo me, whatever, I'm still going to go out there and play my game. Winning ballgames in the most important thing. Driving runs, scoring runs is part of the game, and any way you can win is good. I'd like to get going a little bit offensively, but as long as I'm helping the team win and doing the little things, I'm satisfied with it."
There was plenty that went wrong for the right fielder on Monday; he and center fielder Roger Bernadina let an easy fly ball fall between them in the fourth inning, and two runs scored as the Nationals struggled to get the ball to the infield.
"Bernie got bad jumps all day for some reason. I don't know why," manager Davey Johnson said. "Jayson could have caught it, too. Those things can't happen on good ballclubs, and I'm sure it won't happen again."
But in the 10th, Werth helped engineer a rally for a team that is having to do quite a few extracurricular things to win games right now. They were playing without Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman, and Johnson used two starting pitchers - Jason Marquis and Livan Hernandez - to pinch hit because his bench was so short-handed. He started Matt Stairs at first base, and after Stairs hurt his knee running in the sixth inning, Johnson put Laynce Nix at first base for the first time since high school.
The Nationals scored the tying run in the seventh with an infield single, a sacrifice bunt, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. That inning ended when Werth struck out against Kerry Wood, swinging at a 1-0 pitch and ending the inning, to more boos, when he missed a curveball two pitches later. He made up for it in the 10th by taking pitches, making an astute read on a pitcher and running the bases aggressively.
Those aren't the reasons the Nationals signed him, but when they gave him the money, they did so knowing he'd play hard even if he wasn't hitting.
"He's a heck of a ballplayer," Johnson said. "There was no sign (for the steal). It's his read, and boom, he's over there. That's a winning attitude. I feel a lot of guys have the same attitude. We're just not expressing our talent as good as I'd like to see us do."