Werth sits, Taylor drops to seventh, Ross could miss start

MIAMI - Jayson Werth is out of the lineup for the Nationals’ series finale against the Marlins, though that was planned before the veteran left fielder felt tightness in his left hamstring and had to depart last night’s game in the fifth inning.

Both Werth and manager Dusty Baker continue to downplay the injury as minor and don’t expect him to miss any significant time.

“I think it was more precautionary than anything,” Baker said this morning. “I didn’t see it on the (daily injury) reports, and he seemed like he was getting around pretty good. But he was going to be off today anyway. So it was just a matter of precaution and trying to keep him healthy. He’s starting to play better. He’s starting to feel better.”

Werth Sliding Catch Sidebar.jpgWerth’s play indeed has improved over the last week. He’s sporting a .933 OPS over his last seven games, with a pair of homers. And he made perhaps his two best defensive plays of the young season last night, a sliding catch down the left-field line in the second inning and then a lunging catch in the gap the following inning.

The latter play appears to have been the one that left Werth’s hamstring feeling tight and led to his departure from the game two innings later.

“That’s one of those plays in the outfield that as a former outfielder you’re kind of scared of because if the ball hits and skips, that’s when you get that little extra lunge forward and you feel it in your hamstrings,” Baker said. “So I know exactly how he felt.”

Ryan Zimmerman also is out of the Nationals lineup today, though as has been the case with the first baseman’s previous two days off, it’s not a result of any discomfort he has felt in his foot but an attempt by Baker to keep him fresh for the long haul.

“He hasn’t really fought me, but I could tell he wasn’t that crazy about it when he was off a few times,” the manager said. “But I just told him: ‘Hey, man, I’m just trying to do what’s best for you and best for us.’ And, knock on wood, he’s been very good. He’s actually been running very well. He’s a good baserunner. I didn’t know he was such a good baserunner. Because his judgment is about as good as anybody on our team. He knows how to play.”

With Werth and Zimmerman sitting, Baker shuffled up his lineup a bit for this game. Daniel Murphy is hitting cleanup behind Bryce Harper, and Matt den Dekker (subbing for Werth in left field) is leading off, bumping Michael A. Taylor to the seventh spot.

Taylor’s struggles at the top of the lineup have been well-noted, and Baker wanted to give the 25-year-old center fielder a chance to ease his mind a bit and hit down in the order for a day. He doesn’t expect that to be a permanent change, though.

“He’s going to be back up there because he’s our best choice,” Baker said. “But when you’re a leadoff man and you’re going good, you’re looking forward to four or five at-bats. When you’re going bad, those four or five at-bats, they add up quickly. You get more at-bats than anybody on the team. Those 1-for-5’s and 1-for-4’s, especially when you’re not getting any non-at-bats - no sacrifice flies, few walks, no sac bunts - they add up quickly. So I just wanted to give him a day off mentally and put him down in the order. ... He gets to see a (pitcher) go through the lineup, almost. So it’s a day off from being leadoff, but not a day off from playing. He’ll probably be back up there tomorrow, we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Baker said it’s too early to know whether Joe Ross will be able to make his next scheduled start as planned after the young right-hander had to depart last night’s game only two innings in due to a blister on his right middle finger.

The Nationals have some time to make a decision. Thanks to Monday’s scheduled off-day, they could conceivably skip Ross’ turn altogether and bring him back the next time around (April 30 at St. Louis). Or, if he’s ready sooner, they could start him any other day next week, using that as an opportunity to realign their rotation order, something they’ve wanted to do anyway.

“We’ve got three or four different scenarios that I gotta go over that (pitching coach) Mike (Maddux) drew up for our possible rotation. Because we still haven’t had the rotation the way we want it, either by rain or this injury now. We’ll go over it. A lot of it depends on how he feels and how the other guys feel.”

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