Werth, LaRoche power Nationals to victory

Werth, LaRoche power Nationals to victory
April 10, 2013, 1:00 am
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If the Nationals had any concerns about Jayson Werth's ability to regain his power stroke following last season's wrist surgery, the veteran right fielder certainly has put those to rest over the last week.

And if anyone had any concern about Adam LaRoche's ability to avoid his penchant for slow starts -- not to mention overcome a bad back -- the veteran first baseman emphatically put that to rest during a 30-minute stretch Tuesday night.

Combining for three home runs between the sixth and eighth innings, Werth and LaRoche answered questions about their personal offensive performances while also pacing the Nationals' potent lineup to an 8-7 victory over the White Sox in which every single run that crossed the plate proved necessary.

On a night in which Gio Gonzalez piled up pitches early, balked in a run and was forced out of the game after only five innings, and on a night in which Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano each served up late home runs to bring Chicago within striking distance, the Nationals needed their lineup to carry the load. They wound up getting production from nearly every starter, pounding out 13 hits, four of them homers.

Who says this team's plan for success revolves only around dominant pitching and defense? The lineup Mike Rizzo has assembled and Davey Johnson has penciled out is more than capable of wining a game on its own.

"And I don't know that's going to change," LaRoche said. "You look at this lineup, and the power from eight guys capable of putting up a lot of home runs in a year, it's huge for us. At any time we could be down three or four runs, and we're a swing away from being right back in it. And not just with a couple of guys."

No, the power can come from just about anywhere. And on this night it came in particular from the two most-veteran hitters in their lineup, despite some recent questions about their ability to go deep.

Werth seems to have proven he's still got power in his stroke. After clearing the fence only twice in 54 games after returning from his broken wrist last summer -- that doesn't include his dramatic homer in Game 4 of the NLDS -- he's already gone deep three times in this season's first week.

And none of them has been cheap, each a towering blast that left no doubt where it was headed the moment it came off the bat, including Tuesday night's two-run shot to left in the bottom of the sixth.

"Obviously his wrist is not bothering him, because he's crushing balls," Johnson said. "That's a good sign."

It also helps that Werth has been able to take a more aggressive approach at the plate. One of baseball's most patient hitters during his career, he's actually yet to draw a walk this season but has pounced on pitchers early in the count more often. (His latest homer came on a first-pitch fastball from Jake Peavy.)

"I think I have been more aggressive this year," Werth said. "Usually I'm aggressive when I feel good at the plate. When I'm not as aggressive, I usually don't feel as good."

Like the guy who bats three spots ahead of him in the lineup, LaRoche has felt fine at the plate. He just didn't have anything to show for it.

When he stepped to the plate in the sixth, LaRoche's season batting line read: .000/.063/.000.

"It's never a good feeling," he said. "The first series, to look up and see zeroes for a batting average is OK. You get into the second week of the season? That's never a good feeling to look up there and not have a hit. But I felt great that first series at home. Just couldn't get the ball to fall."

His back -- which tightened up over the weekend in Cincinnati and forced him to miss two games -- feeling much better, LaRoche knew he'd get on the board eventually. And when he connected on Peavy's 100th and final pitch of the night, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief and round the bases for the first time this season.

Two innings later, LaRoche did it again, taking left-hander Matt Thornton deep for his second homer in as many at-bats. With only two swings, he managed to raise his slugging percentage 471 points.

"You guys were all worried about it," Johnson said. "I wasn't worried about it. ... I like the way he was swinging. But it probably did ease a little pressure."

If nothing else, LaRoche was relieved not to have to hear any more grief from his 11-year-old son, Drake, who had some choice words for his dad following the homer.

"He taps me on the back and says: 'It's about time!' and then turns and walks away," Adam LaRoche said.

Everyone could laugh about it afterward, but only because Soriano escaped a harrowing ninth inning, one in which the new closer surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Alex Rios to trim the Nationals' three-run lead into a one-run nailbiter. With slugger Adam Dunn waiting in the on-deck circle to potentially make his return to D.C. with the game on the line, Soriano calmly retired Paul Konerko to end this one and preserve the Nats' fifth win in seven games.

"It wasn't pretty," Johnson said.

But on this night, it was good enough.