PITTSBURGH - One positive side effect that accompanies adversity is perspective. And, as Jayson Werth leaned back in an office chair in the visitor's clubhouse at PNC Park yesterday, it was clear that the personal battles that marked the early part of his career provided plenty of it.
He has overcome a late-developing frame - "skinny as a rail, almost frail," was how he described himself as a teenager - and a wrist injury that caused him to miss the 2006 season. In 2007, his first year with the Phillies, he overcame a frustrating wait for playing time.
Now, 30 years old and already in possession of career highs in home runs and RBI, he is slugging his way through another hurdle: the perception that he can't hit righthanded pitching.
"People still say those things," Werth said. "It's not like I've shaken the label or anything, but I think I have done a better job of letting people see what I can do."
Heading into last night's game against the Pirates, Werth was tied for seventh among National League righthanded hitters with 17 home runs off of righties. Ahead of him was a who's who of power hitters: Arizona's Mark Reynolds (32), St. Louis' Albert Pujols (28), Washington's Ryan Zimmerman (22), the Cubs' Derrek Lee (21), Milwaukee's Ryan Braun (20) and Florida's Hanley Ramirez (18).
While Werth's batting average (.254) and on-base percentage (.346) against righties are lower than last season, when he hit .255 with a .360 on-base percentage against them while spending most of the year platooning in rightfield. he is averaging a home run every 18.5 at-bats against righties compared with a home run every 32.9 at-bats last year.
But he does not attribute the increase in power to a more aggressive approach at the plate, a contention that is backed up by the 4.47 pitches he sees per plate appearance against righties, most among NL hitters from either side of the plate.
Rather, Werth said the surge has come from something he has pushed for ever since signing with the Phillies as a lightly pursued free agent prior to the 2007 season: more playing time.
"That just has to do with playing every day and getting more looks against righties," Werth said. "I've always thought I could hit righties just fine. Of course you are at a disadvantage righty vs. righty and lefty vs. lefty . . . There are some anamolies there, but mainly you are at a disadvantage when a guy throws on the same side. You just are."
But playing time has helped overcome that disadvantage.
As evidence, witness a game against tough Cardinals righthander Adam Wainwright in early May. Werth entered the game having faced Wainright in three previous at-bats, two of which ended in strikeouts. But after striking out in the second inning, he drove in four runs in his next two at-bats, hitting a sacrifice fly in the third inning and then a three-run home run in the fifth.
Wainwright isn't the only top-of-the-rotation righthander who has suffered form Werth's presence as an everyday rightfielder. He was 3-for-3 with two doubles off Colorado's Jason Marquis earlier this season and is 6-for-9 with two home runs in his career off of the Phillies' potential divisional playoff opponent. Werth has at least 16 career plate appearances against eight righthanders (Brett Tomko, Javier Vazquez, Mike Pelfrey, Tim Redding, Brian Lawrence, Jair Jurrjens, Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt). Against that group, he is 35-for-129 (.271) with three home runs, 10 RBI and a .356 on-base percentage.
"The more at-bats, the more looks I can get, the more righties I see, I feel like the better I am going to be when I face them," Werth said.
While Werth still hits lefties at a much higher rate - heading into last night he was hitting .320 with a .447 on-base percentage against them - his overall numbers make the 2-year, $10 million contract he signed prior to the season look like a bargain for the Phillies. As of last night, he ranked seventh overall in the National League with 29 home runs, and was hitting .273 with a .377 on-base percentage.
"I think he can get better," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I know he can get better. Jayson Werth has a lot of talent . . . I think he likes playing for us, I think he likes the guys on our team. I think he's kind of found a place where he can play every day and feel comfortable."
Campaigning for Happ
Phillies lefthander J.A. Happ got the loss last night, but still leads all National League rookies with a 10-3 record and a 2.63 ERA. Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, meanwhile, led all rookie hitters (minimum 300 plate appearances) with a .839 on-base and slugging percentage while chipping in nine home runs, 15 stolen bases and 51 runs.
Not surprisingly, Manuel thinks the race is already over.
"I think he [Happ] should be Rookie of the Year, yes, I can tell you that right now," Manuel said. "For what he's done for us and how he's done, it's pretty hard for me to see somebody beating him out of that. But, of course, I don't have a vote."
Righthander Brett Myers, who has impressed Phillies brass with his low-90s velocity and health, is scheduled to make his fifth rehab appearance tomorrow for Double A Reading. Myers struck out five batters in two scoreless innings Wednesday. After Saturday's outing, the Phillies hope to schedule him for back-to-back appearances, after which he could be ready to rejoin the active roster.
Lefthander Antonio Bastardo, who threw two innings of a Gulf Coast League game Wednesday, is scheduled to make his third rehab appearance Monday . . . Lefthander J.C. Romero (left forearm) is scheduled to visit the Phillies training staff in Philadelphia today for what Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said was a routine checkup. The Phillies said they are still optimistic that Romero, who has yet to throw a rehab outing since returning to Clearwater, Fla., in early August, will be ready to rejoin the team at some point in September.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.