Werth already tired of losing in Washington after disastrous trip
It took under 50 games for new Nat Jayson Werth to criticize the team's losing
The Nationals got a walk-off win on Friday, helping ease a disastrous 1-7 road trip
With prospects like Bryce Harper, the Nationals won't contend until at leat 2012-13
WASHINGTON -- In a matter of minutes Friday night, Jayson Werth, the Nationals' $126 million outfielder, saw his mood switch from celebratory to testiness.
On the field, Werth was dumping a bucket of Gatorade on teammate Michael Morse after Morse hit a walk-off home run in the Nationals' 2-1 win against the Padres at Nationals Park.
In the clubhouse, Werth, who had 18 RBI in 50 games, explained that he wasn't targeting management when, earlier in the week, he said that the team needed to make changes after a 1-7 road trip.
The win provided relief for a reeling clubhouse, but Werth wasn't able to enjoy it just yet. He was doing damage control, explaining that he was misunderstood in rampant speculation that he was unhappy with management.
"I said what I said, and other people said what they said,'' Werth said. "It had nothing to do with anything other than me saying changes need to be made. And, those changes are winning games. We have to do what it takes to win.
''It has nothing to do with personnel changes, change this or change that. That's all words put into my mouth. We need to starting winning. We need to start hitting. That's the bottom line.''
After the Nationals' trip ended with a 6-3 loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Werth said changes needed to be made but didn't offer specifics, leaving it open to speculation that he wasn't happy with general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman.
Reporters weren't sure what Werth was talking about, and neither was Riggleman, who called Werth into his office Friday afternoon to ask for clarification.
Riggleman said he was assured Werth wasn't talking about him. He said the two talked about ideas and that Werth was frustrated with losing. But the manager said that Werth was on board with the Nationals' plan.
"Definitely,'' Riggleman said. "We've got to start winning games. The losing that's taken place here, that's got to change. We've got to change some things -- what we do and how we play.''
The Nationals were off Thursday. Had Werth been more specific Wednesday, he could have saved himself and the team a lot of grief. Why didn't he elaborate?
"There's a lot of things I said that I had on my mind,'' Werth said. "It's not just one thing; it's not two things. There are things that I see that are going on that need to be changed for us to win games.''
After playing on winning teams for four seasons in Philadelphia, Werth signed with the Nationals and put himself into a strange position. He has never hit 30 home runs or had 100 RBI in a season, but now he was expected to change a culture of losing in Washington.
Usually, only contending teams hand out that kind of money. But, the Nationals, who haven't had a winning record since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005, are a rebuilding team that doesn't expect to contend until at least 2012 or 2013.
Werth and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman are the building blocks. Zimmerman, out since early April, will miss 10 weeks with an injury stomach muscle that required surgery. Werth went into Saturday's game hitting .249 after a season of few opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Nationals' fountain of youth includes catcher Wilson Ramos, infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, outfielders Roger Bernadina and Bryce Harper (in Class A) and pitchers Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.
Zimmermann is pitching well. Storen, in his first full season, could be on his way to the All-Star Game in Arizona come July.
Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in 2009 who created a summer-long buzz in D.C. during 2010 with his 100-mph fastball, is rehabilitating from ligament-replacement surgery in his elbow and will not be ready until 2012, although he might pitch a few innings in September.
Rizzo said Harper, 18, the top pick in the 2010 draft, will not be up with the Nationals until at least 2012, even though he's making a good impression for the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns in the South Atlantic League, and the Nationals are one of the worst-hitting teams in the NL.
Ramos and Rodriguez share catching duties for now, but in the second half, Ramos will likely take over full-time duties. Pudge could be traded.
Morse, who has six home runs, won the left-field job in spring training, but he lost his job when he didn't hit in April. Then, he was moved to first after slumping Adam LaRoche went out with a shoulder injury, leaving Laynce Nix to play left.
Jerry Hairston Jr. and Alex Cora have teamed to replace Zimmerman at third, a big drop in production. Rick Ankiel, the opening-day center fielder, didn't hit and got hurt. Now, he's behind Bernadina in center.
"We haven't hit, but you just can't have the injuries we've had,'' Rizzo said. "Losing Zimmerman affects the entire lineup. LaRoche didn't hit before his injury. And, we just don't have our normal team out there.''
Bernadina is a prospect that needs to play every day, and the Nationals will decide if he'd be better long-term in left or center.
The shortstop Desmond and second baseman Espinosa show promise but haven't been consistent at the plate.
This season, even without Zimmerman, their best hitter and the face of the franchise, the Nationals were hanging around .500, thanks to a surprisingly strong rotation and deep bullpen.
So, on May 18, when they started a three-city trip to New York, Baltimore and Milwaukee, the Nationals were in the National League East's basement, but two games under .500. They were taking aim at returning home this weekend with a winning record.
But, that didn't happen. The trip was a disaster from the start.
The Nationals couldn't hit. They were shut out twice. They wasted a sterling start by Zimmermann. They blew a 6-2 lead, and they scored 17 runs in one game but couldn't use the outburst as momentum.
They feuded with each other and with umpires. Once, Riggleman got thrown out after the second pitch of the game.
Rodriguez, usually calm, screamed at umpires in a tunnel. Rizzo was fined for criticizing umps. Riggleman and pitcher Jason Marquis had a heated exchange about a quick hook, and Rizzo said he wasn't sure the two would be going to dinner any time soon.
But, Marquis said it is all over. "There's nothing more to it, nothing lingering. It was just a competitive pitcher not wanting to come out of the game.''
Then, after getting swept in Milwaukee, Werth made his remarks to reporters, igniting a discussion about what changes he thought should be made.
The Nationals won Friday, and that eliminated a lot of the tension. But, at the end of the game, it appeared more frustration was on the way.
Hairston was ejected for arguing a timeout call at the plate. Storen gave up a game-tying home run to San Diego shortstop Jason Bartlett.
But, in last of the ninth inning, Morse saved the day. He hit the first pitch he saw from Mike Adams into the left-field bullpen. His teammates met him at home plate.
The season-high five-game losing streak was over.
Morse got a Gatorade bath and a shaving-cream pie in his face, but it was worth it. The memory of a 1-7 trip was fading fast.
"It was cold, like jumping into a cold tub,'' Morse said. "We've got momentum going. We like it.''
Nationals pitcher John Lannan said the win against the Padres meant more than an average win.
"It's good to stop the bleeding as soon as possible,'' Lannan said.
"We needed that one,'' he said. "I hope it starts something good. We hope that 1-7 was our lowest point.''
Mel Antonen, an analyst for Sirius-XM Radio, is a baseball reporter who lives in Washington D.C. Follow him on Twitter.