Phils' Werth has emerged as a star after injury nearly ruined his career
PHILADELPHIA -- Most days from May to August in 2006
"There's not a whole lot to catch in that lake," admits Werth, now the Phillies' starting right fielder. "I was just killing time, really."
Such a schedule would be a dream for the hobbyist fisherman, but these were summer months and, at 27, Werth should have been in the middle of his baseball prime. The Orioles' first-round pick in 1997 out of Glenwood High in Chatham, Ill., he made his major league debut in 2002 with the Blue Jays and started to hit his stride in '04 with the Dodgers, belting 16 home runs in just 89 games.
Werth was slated to open the '05 season as the Dodgers' everyday right fielder, only to be hit by a tailing
"I was in a weird place," recalls Werth. "I was given two and a half months to contemplate life. It wasn't like I was depressed. I was just really unsure about what was going to happen. My wrist was not capable of playing in the big leagues. I felt like my mind and my body were very capable, but I had an injury that no one at the time knew what was wrong."
One day at home, while checking the mailbox, Werth was approached by a family friend, who was an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor asked how the wrist was doing, heard Werth explain his futile attempts for second and third opinions and suggested he travel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. There, Werth met a wrist specialist and pioneer in the field,
The Dodgers, however, were unconvinced their outfielder would return to form and did not tender him a contract, but the next morning Phillies general manager
Werth's playing time and production have improved almost exponentially in his three seasons in South Philly. Though he lacks the star power of teammates
Jayson Werth is a patient man. In the batter's box, as he takes pitch after pitch, "I always feel like I have something better coming," he says.
In the first inning of last Wednesday's NLCS Game 5, Werth batted with two on and two out. Los Angeles had taken the early lead on an
Only when he was good, ready and facing a full count did he deign to swing his maple MaxBat. The sixth pitch, also a fastball, Werth fouled out of play. And when Padilla's seventh straight four-seam fastball caught the middle of the plate, Werth pounded it deep into the bleachers beyond right-center field to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
Again in the seventh, facing reliever
That's the patience Werth has shown throughout his career, particularly this season when he led the majors in seeing 4.51 pitches per plate appearance.
Selectivity was reinforced by one of his hitting coaches in the Dodgers' minor-league system, former pro
"I may have always just had it," Werth says of his plate discipline. "I can remember being a kid -- and I come from a baseball family -- and my grandfather, stepdad and everybody were always saying to be more aggressive and to look for a pitch early in the count and drive it. That's never been what I've done."
Three of his close family members -- his stepfather,
"You've got to train the eye by seeing pitches," Werth says. "Because I had a pitching machine when I was eight years old, maybe the amount of looks that I got at an early age gave me some kind of training that I've been able to see pitches well."
Werth's surfer blond hair and soft-spoken demeanor can be deceptive, seemingly portraying a very cool, laid-back customer, because in actuality he's a fiery competitor at gametime.
"He's a very intense, extremely competitive teammate," says utilityman
In addition to his baseball-playing men of the family, Werth's mother,
"You see those parents who are like, 'Oh that's OK' -- but it's
That's why he wasn't upset when -- in the midst of a torrid World Series last year in which he batted .444, with a homer, three steals and a .583 on-base percentage -- Philadelphia fans booed him when he got picked off second base in Game 3.
"I should have gotten booed," he says, "and I expected to."
When he was 11 and competing in a national tournament, his team's catcher got sick with a migraine before the semifinals. Facing an elimination game without a catcher -- the team didn't have a backup catcher because, as Werth says, "we were 11 years old, he caught every game" -- Werth volunteered despite never having done it before. In the semifinal victory he threw out a few runners trying to steal bases and blocked some balls in the dirt.
"My stepfather came up as a catcher in the minor leagues and said, 'You're a natural,' " says Werth. "From then on, I was a catcher until Double-A, when I made the move to the outfield."
He became Glenwood High's starting catcher as a sophomore, and as old high school coach,
"We let him call his own game," Moomey says. "He had a great understanding of pitching to hitters and how to get the most of pitchers."
As a junior, Werth led Glenwood to its only state championship in school history, and as a senior he batted .652 with 15 home runs in 31 games.
"It's such a tough thing for high school kids, when you're at a small field somewhere, and 15 scouts are standing behind home plate watching every move you make," Moomey says. "I've seen a lot of kids in that situation really let that get to them their senior year. He was just the opposite. I felt nervous as a coach with all the scouts there, I can't imagine what he felt like as a player."
During one of the Phillies' first spring training meetings of this year,
"You're looking at a really tremendous athlete," Lopes says. "All phases of the game he plays very well. He has plus speed, plus arm, plus defense and plus-plus power."
Werth was nine when
"At that time I hadn't really had someone like that back me," Werth says of Lopes' spring training proclamation, "and for him to have the confidence in my ability to put that out there was big."
At 6-foot-5, 212 pounds, Werth has practical strength, developed from constant repetition in the nearly two-dozen years since his stepfather built that batting cage. Werth stands tall in the box, with an especially upright torso over gently bent knees, cocking his arms back as the pitch approaches. Dobbs compared his long stance to that of a former teammate.
"He reminds me a lot of
"He thinks it's funny that I'm a tall, skinny fellow from Springfield," says Werth.
So as a gift from the traveling secretary, a large doll of