Werth says boos won't break lasting Philly bond

Jayson Werth is looking forward to some smack talking with former team.
Jayson Werth is looking forward to some smack talking with former team.
Posted: April 11, 2011

NEW YORK - He knows you are coming, Philadelphia.

Jayson Werth has seen it before, seen the fans of a successful team invade the ballpark of one much less successful, the way Mets fans used to infest Citizens Bank Park when he first arrived in Philly. What he doesn't know, has just begun to ponder, in fact, is what he will hear when he steps to the plate for the first time against his old team tomorrow at Nationals Park.

A smattering of boos?

The lungs of Philly pilgrims drowning out hometown cheers?

Or will it be combined approval, cheers from the Philly folk who will forever appreciate his part in four consecutive postseason appearances blending with Nationals fans who see his 7-year, $126 million contract as an unprecedented commitment to winning?

"I'm confident that they won't forget what I did or what we did the last few years," Werth was saying before the Nationals rallied for a 7-3, 11-inning victory over the Mets yesterday at Citi Field. "But that's about as far as it goes. Cheer or boo, that's not going to take away what was accomplished there."

Four division championships in a row.

Two National League pennants.

A World Series championship and the lasting image of Werth riding a parade float wearing a big red fist.

Someone joked that the Phillies haven't won a thing without him. He smiled.

"Will it be good to see my old friends and teammates?" he said. "Of course.

"And Charlie . . . I can't wait to see Charlie, you know? He's a smack talker. And I know he's going to be ready. And I'm going to be ready for him. I got something for him."

Six spring-training weeks and nine regular-season games into his new role as The Man, Werth appears, externally at least, unchanged. The beard is trimmer than his Geico look of last summer, but the hair still flops all over the place, still asserts an image that played a part in the Nationals' sizable and controversial offseason investment.

Werth is hitting .200 after four outs and a walk yesterday. His one home run is also his one RBI, and his glove betrayed him and his new team in a painful extra-inning loss to Florida last week. So his effect, for now, is mostly an intangible one, described several times as "energy" by another former Phillie now with the Nationals, outfielder Matt Stairs; described often as "effort" by Washington manager Jim Riggleman. That might sound like gobbledygook to some, but when a team has lost as much as the Nats have over the last few years, the game's grind can drain the emotions.

With the Phillies, Stairs said, "We lose a game, nothing changes in the clubhouse. Here, it gets quiet when we lose one game. And that's because they've had tough seasons."

Not everyone. Adam LaRoche was a winner in Atlanta. Alex Cora has been on winning teams. But shortstop Ian Desmond's first full season was the last one, and second baseman Danny Espinosa is a rookie. Stephen Strasburg might be ready to pitch by September, Bryce Harper might get to the bigs as soon as next season.

And then there is third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, still only 26, entering his sixth full season as a National. When Zimmerman signed a 5-year, $45 million extension at this time 2 years ago, it seemed crazier than what the Nationals offered Werth over the winter.

Because of their youth (and impatience at the plate) the Nats are reluctant to bat Desmond and Espinosa together at the top of the order. So Werth is in the two-hole on most nights, batting ahead of Zimmerman and LaRoche.

"It's OK for now," Werth said. "It's one of those things where you're doing what's best for the team, for the guys, for the personnel."

Werth has managed a .333 on-base percentage despite his early struggles, and has reached base in all nine of the Nats' games so far. "I'm still running 3-2 [counts] every at-bat," he said before the game, then on cue ran the count to at least six pitches in four of the five plate appearances.

"Still looking for my pitch, you know?"

Zimmerman missed yesterday's game with an abdominal strain suffered in Saturday's 8-4 loss, but when the pair bat simultaneously, they have a combined on-base percentage of .419 with five runs batted in. Still, the Nationals had struggled mightily with situational hitting until the four-run 11th inning, when Pudge Rodriguez' seeing-eye single plated the winning run and Laynce Nix followed with a three-run bomb off Mets reliever Blaine Boyer.

That made them 14-for-79 (.177) with runners in scoring position this season, a percentage that Riggleman predicted before the game would improve as the season progresses. Presuming, of course, that Zimmerman's injury, which first appeared during spring training, doesn't limit his games or effectiveness. Or that LaRoche is OK after tweaking his left groin running the bases yesterday.

Presuming, too, that Werth doesn't have a spell like he did last summer when, from May 17 through Sept. 14, he was 1-for-43 with runners in scoring position and two outs, when signs that had read "Werth It" during his torrid April and May start were replaced by "Werth-less" ones.

Stairs praises Philly fans, telling a Washington reporter that he wasn't booed once during his awful 2009 season, even over the 2 months he failed to get a hit. Werth, he said, also "had a great relationship with the fans. The long hair, the goatee, the Jesus look, whatever. They loved all that. But, really, they loved the way he played the game."

It's why Werth is odds-on to get Option 3 tomorrow night, at least for the intros and until he hurts his old team.

"Look at Pat Burrell," Stairs said, referring to Burrell's first game in Philadelphia as a San Francisco Giant. "Standing ovation first at-bat. Hits a home run, second at-bat he gets booed."

"Fine with me," Werth said, then laughed.

"I think the bonds that I made there are everlasting," he said. "When I'm 60, I expect to be back in Philly for alumni weekend and stuff like that."

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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