When things are going good, hitting is contagious like Love.
When things are going bad, hitting is contagious like Ebola.
It is a complicated concept, particularly with regards to an act that seems so individual. But when you consider the at-bat Jayson Werth had against Heath Bell in the ninth inning of Monday night's 3-1 loss to the Padres, it makes a little more sense.
The Phillies were down to their last out, and Ryan Howard was standing on second, which meant Werth was in the batter's box representing the tying run.
The Phillies had lost 11 of their last 15 ballgames. They were averaging under two runs in those games. Werth had nine hits in his last 59 at-bats. The player following Werth in the lineup, veteran leftfielder Raul Ibanez, was hitting .230. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has played in just 12 games this season, leaving Shane Victorino at the leadoff spot and a light-hitting utility man in either Wilson Valdez or Juan Castro hitting No. 7 or No. 8.
An athlete's natural inclination is to take matters into his own hands, and that is what Werth appeared to do. He saw seven fastballs from Padres closer Heath Bell. He took big swings at four of them, the last of which resulted in a game-ending strikeout.
"You start thinking home run," manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday, "you swing too hard."
Perhaps it is a microcosm of the slump the Phillies took into last night's game, when they rapped 13 hits in a 10-8 win over the Marlins with Werth watching from the sideline. A bunch of big-talent major leaguers trying too hard to carry the rest of the lineup out of its collective funk. If not me, then who? Except that thinking, more often than not, only adds more bulk to the snowball.
This was part of Manuel's thought process when he decided to keep Werth, who had just three hits in his last 38 at-bats, out of the lineup.
"I think he needs to get off his feet, slow down," Manuel said. "Everything's fast right now."
Werth said he was OK with the move, but he did take umbrage with a comment Manuel made in response to a pregame question about the rightfielder's contract situation. When asked if he thought Werth's upcoming free agency - he is expected to be one of the top outfielders available this offseason - might be weighing on his mind, Manuel responded:
"In some ways, it has to. I definitely think that. I think everyone is like that. Even if a guy is quiet and controls it better than others, I know it does. I know in his mind, he thinks about that. He really got off to a tremendous start. When things start going a little bad for him, yeah, he thinks about it. But he's going to be fine, if he just goes back and plays the way that I know he can, and that he's showed me that he can."
After the game, Werth said Manuel's comments bothered him. "I don't think anyone can sit there and say they know what I'm thinking," Werth said. "I'm playing hard. I'm playing to win . . . The contract is the last thing on my mind. But at the same time, I know that Charlie is in my corner, and we all have one-track minds in here. But that's not what I'm thinking."
Werth began his contract year hitting .325 in the month of April. When Howard signed a 5-year, $125 million contract extension, raising questions about the Phillies' ability to sign Werth, Werth responded by hitting .330 with six home runs in the next 24 games.
His slump began when the team's slump began. In the 19 games before last night's, a stretch in which the Phillies lost 13, Werth was 9-for-60.
"I talk balance all the time," Manuel said. "I think one feeds two, two feeds three, three feeds four, four feeds five, five feeds six."
In order to rediscover that balance, the Phillies need Werth to rediscover the smooth swing and patience that have turned him into such a valuable commodity. Last night, that meant giving him a game off.
Florida's Hanley Ramirez has moved ahead of Jimmy Rollins in the lastest National League All-Star balloting. Rollins, who was leading by about 22,000 last week, now trails 835,275 to 792,987.
Jayson Werth fell from second to fourth, while Shane Victorino fell from fourth to fifth. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun leads NL outfielders with 1,017,266 votes, followed by surging Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward (1,008,451) and the Dodgers' Andre Ethier (985,305). Werth has 901,978 votes and Victorino has 819,756.