Nationals say veteran changed 'atmosphere'
For four years with the Philadelphia Phillies, all Jayson Werth knew was winning.
At the same time his career was taking off personally, he was able to celebrate four consecutive National League East titles, two pennants and a World Series championship. Then he became a free agent after the 2010 season and signed with the Nationals, a team his Phillies routinely beat up on, that had no winning tradition and, in fact, featured a clubhouse culture in which losing was tolerated -- even expected. That's what happens when a team wins 59 games in consecutive seasons (2008, 2009).
From the day he signed with the Nats, a seven-year, $126 million contract that sent shock waves through the sport, Werth pledged to help erase that old culture and foster a new one in Washington.
"I'm going to do the things in the clubhouse and off the field that maybe are overlooked in this game [but] more often than not that create a winning atmosphere," Werth said during his introductory news conference.
At the time, it sounded like the typical cliches athletes spout when they transfer from a competitive team to a rebuilding one. Only this time it seems to have come true. Werth didn't have an ideal first season with the Nats in 2011. He was the primary right fielder, hit 20 home runs with 58 RBIs and had a .232 batting average and a .718 OPS. It was nowhere close to the production of his final year in Philadelphia. But he really did contribute in other ways.
"[Werth] probably didn't have the year he would like. That aside, since Day 1 of spring training last year, you realized you didn't want to let him down," Nats reliever Sean Burnett said. "He's coming from a winning organization. ... That guy knows what it takes to win, and I think he's changed the atmosphere. Maybe not as much on the field as people saw, but what he did in the clubhouse, in general, completely changed the makeup of this team."
Ironically, Werth wasn't able to play as Washington, 80-81 last season, was making the leap to true contender. The Nats have been in first place every day since May 22 and had spent 26 days there before that. But Werth broke his left wrist May 6 and was not back in the lineup until Thursday after 75 games out. He returned to find that his project to transform the clubhouse was basically complete. He again plays for a team that expects to win every night, the starting point for any championship club.
"It wasn't hard to watch. It was way easier to watch than if they were not winning," Werth said. "I've been happy with the effort the guys have been giving all season -- even before I got injured. They've just continued to play well. We've got a lot of talent, a lot of young talent. We've won a lot of games with that talent. We got two months to go. When we get healthy, when [shortstop Ian Desmond] gets back, I think we're going to be tough."