Though he felt like he was ready to face big-league pitching again after a three-month recovery from a broken left wrist and a nine-game rehab assignment in the minors, Jayson Werth figured there might be a bit of a transition phase once the Nationals activated him off the disabled list last week.As it turns out, Werth's only transition has been from cautious optimism to downright giddiness after a fantastic re-debut weekend at Nationals Park. In his first four games back, the veteran outfielder is 5-for-12 with five walks, all but erasing whatever doubts there were about his ability to make a smooth return from a devastating injury."I'm surprised," Werth admitted after yesterday's 4-1 win over the Marlins. "The whole thing's very surprising."Not that he didn't expect to ever get his swing back. He just figured it would take a little more time before he felt comfortable facing big-league pitchers again.Werth pointed out he was cleared to swing a bat only about three weeks ago."I kept trying to swing, kept trying to swing, and just wasn't ready," he said. "And then one day I was like: 'Oh, I can swing.' And then two days later I was like: 'I can really swing!'"Werth began his rehab assignment at Class A Potomac on July 21. He wound up playing a total of nine games over 12 days, most of that time spent at Class AAA Syracuse, and about halfway through the process began to feel like his timing at the plate had returned.Even so, Werth figured he would still need more time to get his body (especially his legs) back into full baseball shape."Sometimes that takes a while," he said. "You go to spring training for six weeks, and usually the last week your legs show up. So that's five weeks waiting for it to happen. I think I was out on rehab for two weeks, not even. So my legs are still a little behind. But everything else feels good."It's hard to dispute the on-field results since Werth was activated off the DL. Splitting time between center and right fields, he's recorded at least one hit in all four games he's played. His keen eye at the plate is as sharp as ever, leading to five walks. Perhaps most impressively, he has only struck out once."His every at-bat is good," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's making contact. He's getting the head out. He's always a great defensive player and baserunner."Werth has essentially picked up where he left off upon getting hurt on May 6. In 31 total games this season, he's now hitting .291 with a .400 on-base percentage and .836 OPS.On top of all that, Werth seems as comfortable and relaxed as he's been since signing with the Nationals 19 months ago. Having long since moved past his disappointing 2011, he's become less of a focal point inside a clubhouse that features plenty more prominent names and faces, allowing Werth to be just another member of a first-place club."He's playing the way I always thought he was going to play," Johnson said. "I didn't see that last year. He was trying to be the leader on the ballclub. He had all kinds of different responsibilities. Now he's just being himself."
Starter A.J. Cole made it 5 2/3 innings on Saturday afternoon, which is pretty good considering that's how much Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg combined to pitch against the Rockies less than two weeks ago. Gio Gonzalez also only made it three innings in that series due to a rain delay.
And in the time since, the Nats' bullpen has been battered around by all sorts of elements including injuries and short outings from starters. The Nationals' next off-day on Thursday, Sept. 1 can't come soon enough to put them out of their current 20 games in 20 days misery.
Cole's outing, by all accounts, could have been a lot worse. But unfortunately for the Nationals, Saturday's game went to extra innings, forcing manager Dusty Baker to do some things he wouldn't normally prefer to do. Like, use the newly acquired Marc Rzepczynski for 2 1/3 innings. Or, to go to Mark Melancon for the third straight game. Or, to leave Yusmeiro Petit on the mound in the 11th even when it was clear he just didn't have it.
For Petit, in particular, Baker felt like he had no other choice, even after the right-hander served up a two-run homer to Charlie Blackmon.
"We felt badly for Yusmeiro because we had to leave him in there, he was our last pitcher we didn't have [Koda] Glover and we were trying to stay away from [Mark] Melancon because that was his third day in a row and we didn't have [Shawn] Kelley. We were down to our last player, we had no more players on the bench and that was our last player, I don't know who was going to pitch if he didn't get out of that inning. He took one for the team so to speak," Baker said.
Petit's inning got off on a sour note with an error by Anthony Rendon at third base. It was one of two errors committed by the Nationals on Saturday. One was by Rzepczynski in the seventh and that one helped lead to a run. Rzepczynski also messed up fielding a bunt in the ninth. Cole also allowed a run on a wild pitch during an intentional walk.
It was a rough day for the Nats, who were plagued by uncharacteristic mistakes. That has been a theme lately and the Nationals hope it ends soon.
“We address it daily, but you cant harp on it. Like I said the other day these things go in streaks," Baker said. "Tony is sure handed over there. We haven’t seen Rzepczynski. He just threw that ball over the head. They bunted on us twice a couple of times and got hits on us. We just have to continue to work.”
The Nats have now made 14 errors in their last nine games. It's been bizarre to watch and it has some at a loss for words.
“Can’t call it. I don’t know. One of those things," left fielder Jayson Werth said.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES
Bryce Harper is not one to back down when it comes to arguments with umpires, even after he's been ejected from a game and has time to cool down and collect his thoughts.
So, it should probably come as no surprise that on Saturday after he was tossed in the 10th inning of the Nats' loss to the Colorado Rockies, Harper referred to home plate umpire Mark Winters' called strike three as a "mistake."
Here is Harper, in detail, on the call that led to him throwing his helmet to the ground and confronting Winters, who immediately sent him to the showers:
"You're in a game like that, 4-4 in the 10th, you get to a 2-2 count. He throws a pitch off the plate which they said was a strike, which was a ball. I was reading it all the way in. If you look at the tape, I was looking down at the ball the whole way into the glove and it was just, you know, it was off the plate. I could possibly see one more pitch and maybe hit a homer or a double or walk. I could even strike out. But I just wanted to see that last pitch and I never got there. It just shouldn't happen. Just bad [call] there. It's not a strike," he said.
"You don't want an umpire to make a mistake in that big of a situation. That's just not good. I wanted to see that last pitch. We could have possibly not played the 11th or the 12th or whatever. I mean, getting on base with [Anthony] Rendon behind me would have been huge as well, possibly could have stolen second, a ball hit to the ride side and you never know."
On if Harper regretted his actions, he did concede it was not a good time to be tossed, given the game was tied and the Nats had a chance to beat the Rockies.
"I know we had a short bench. I think going into it you don't ever want to get ejected," he said.
Manager Dusty Baker didn't offer a harsh assessment to Harper's ejection. He basically described it as just part of the game.
"Everybody blows up from time to time," he said. "These things happen. Especially it happens this time of year tempers are short. It’s hot, played a lot of games, been around the same people for a long period of time. This is the time of year when tempers do flare up.”
Outfielder Jayson Werth was brief in his comments on Harper. But did note how this isn't the first time for the reigning MVP. Harper has now been ejected from eight games in his career.
"I’ve been kicked out of one game my whole career. Bryce, on the other hand, has been kicked out of multiple," he said.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES
The Nationals have chosen right-hander Lucas Giolito to start on Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, as their revolving door of rookies making spot starts continues.
Giolito, 22, last pitched for the Nationals on July 24 against the San Diego Padres. He has made three big league starts this season with six earned runs allowed on 12 hits and nine walks in 11 total innings.
Giolito has faced the Padres once and the Mets twice. On Sunday, he will see a lineup that is much more formidable in the Rockies.
"I’m hoping he throws up a gem against a very tough lineup," manager Dusty Baker said.
Since his last MLB start, Giolito has pitched five times for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He gave up nine earned runs in 22 2/3 innings during that stretch.
A former 16th overall pick, Giolito is ranked by many outlets as the top pitching prospect in baseball. He is the top prospect overall in the Nationals minor league system.
Giolito made his MLB debut against the New York Mets on June 28.