<
>

Three Strikes: What it's Werth edition

STRIKE ONE -- HE'S NO HATER DEPT.

Elsewhere on this site, you'll find a column -- here you go -- I wrote on the the Nationals' new $126-million man, Jayson Werth.

In that column, you'll run across the suggestion that one reason the Nationals wanted to sign this guy is that they'd like him to help infuse their team with the toughness of Werth's old team, the Phillies.

Which is interesting since, in a Feb. 26 piece in The Washington Post, longtime columnist Thomas Boswell quoted GM Mike Rizzo as muttering to Werth around the batting cage: "I hate the [expletive] Phillies."

Whereupon Werth was quoted as replying: "I hate the Phillies, too."

Rizzo is already on record as saying Boswell misheard him. Now it's Werth's turn to give his side. He says he still is "not even going to agree that I said that." And whatever it was he said, he contends, "it was not a serious statement." And he posed a question that lots of people who know him have wondered about: "Why would I hate the Phillies?"

Here's how he laid out his version when I asked him about it recently:

"I'm not even going to agree that I said that. I think that was taken totally out of context in a situation where I was not asked a question. I was not quoted. ... In that setting, when that may or may not have been said, if everything I've said inside a batting cage or around a batting cage was reported, there'd be some pretty outlandish statements. Again, I'm not even agreeing that that was said because I'm not sure that it was. ...

"I was in the batting cage hitting. And I say all kinds of things to psych myself up when I'm hitting. So if that was said, it was A) never meant to have been reported and B) it wasn't a serious statement. ...

"It's really a non-issue for me. Why would I hate the Phillies? I [experienced] nothing but awesome things while I was there. I'm nothing but thankful to that organization, and those players, and the people of that city. Notice it wasn't reported that I hate my teammates or I hate the city or I hate the fans. So I'm not real worried about it."

But what is Werth expecting when he returns to Philadelphia as a National, especially in the wake of that quote?

"I'm hoping for a warm welcome when I go back," he said, "by the fans and the city and the organization. I think what we did there in the last four years was pretty special. ... It was nothing but good times. I have nothing but the kindest, nicest things to say about my time in Philadelphia. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I'll always remember it.

"The way I look at it, when I'm 60 years old, I'm assuming I'll be back there (for alumni weekends). When I'm an old fart, I hope I'll be back there because of the '08 team. Nobody can take that away from me. That stuff is set in stone forever."

And, finally, how does he look back on why he thinks the Phillies didn't re-sign him?

"I've really just turned the page and moved on," he said. "It's business, really. And a lot of it was out of my control. So there's really no reason to look back now. I'm headed in (a new) direction here."

STRIKE TWO -- CAMP BUZZ DEPT.

Rumors and position battles on the spring-training trail.:

• The Nationals are looking for a veteran back-of-the-bullpen arm. They would seem likely to deal from their catching surplus, but clubs that have asked about Wilson Ramos are being told they're not interested in dealing him because they think he's ready to catch regularly sooner, not later.

• The Red Sox continue to sing Jarrod Saltalamacchia's praises. But they've been quietly poking around, asking about catching that could become available. Could bullpen depth could make them a match for the Nationals? Just asking.

• The Phillies have been shopping, but not at second base. They're looking for a low-budget extra outfielder who can play some center field if Shane Victorino gets hurt or needs a break. One name they've targeted: St. Louis' John Jay.

• At second base, there are no indications the Phillies plan to fill Chase Utley's chasm by making a deal, at least for now. At the moment, Josh Barfield seems to have the edge over Pete Orr for the backup infielder job, with Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez a long shot. At this point, Delwyn Young also appears to have a spot as a bat off the bench.

• The Mets seem to have very little interest in having Luis Castillo win their second-base job. But scouts following them say he's by far their best option. "At least he can play there," said one of them. "He can't play it great anymore. But the other guys they've got can't play second base. At least this guy can play. But it's pretty clear they can't stand looking at him."

• The Twins wouldn't mind adding bullpen depth. But one scout who has covered them this spring says: "I don't think they'll wind up trading a starter. I just don't see it. With [Scott] Baker and [Francisco] Liriano and their injury history, I don't think they'll trade their depth. They'll need it."

STRIKE THREE -- SCOUT TALK DEPT.

Here's what some of America's greatest scouting minds are reporting in their spring-training travels:

• ON ZACH BRITTON: "This guy is pretty special. He has a poise and a presence about him you don't see much. Not only does he throw 93-95 [mph], but he's got great sink. The ball sinks a foot. His other stuff is solid. And the big thing is, he's not rattled by anything."

• ON LANCE BERKMAN: "That's going to be a reach. I just don't see how he's going to play [the outfield] on a regular basis. There's a big difference between playing first base in Houston and right field in St. Louis.

• ON YANKEES PHENOM MANNY BANUELOS: "It's 50-50 he pitches in the big leagues this year. He's out there facing the big boys, at 19-20 years old, and he's in total control. That's the thing that impresses you most when you watch him. He's not the biggest guy in the league. He's not the hardest thrower. But he's just out there pitching. He's been that way since he was 17, when he was the youngest guy in the Gulf Coast League."

• ON HANLEY RAMIREZ: "Flip a coin. You never know which guy will show up. One day, he's the greatest player in the game. The next day, he's dropping a pop-up and running a 5.2 down the line."

• ON THE PHILLIES' ATTEMPTS TO REPLACE CHASE UTLEY: "They're acting like it's no big thing, but that's a big loss. And not just on the field. He's the guy who gets them all to play hard. Wilson Valdez is a nice player, but he's not an every-day player. I watched him play second the other day, and he turned two balls that should have been outs into hits. And that's a big deal, because if you're going to run that pitching staff out there, I mean, Roy Halladay needs those balls to be caught. Don't get me wrong. They've still got a great team. But they've got some chinks, and they're coming out."