- The Washington Times
Sunday, May 29, 2016

For the majority of the Washington Nationals’ 10-2 win against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, Jayson Werth was in the batting cage fine-tuning his swing.

The veteran left fielder had a scheduled day off, but knew he’d likely get a chance to pinch hit after manager Dusty Baker used a double-switch to bring reliever Felipe Rivero in during the seventh inning. Werth pinch-hit for Rivero with the bases loaded in the bottom of seventh. On the second pitch, he blasted Dean Kiekhefer’s change-up over the center field wall for a grand slam, giving the Nationals a more comfortable 8-2 lead.

“Obviously, I hadn’t been hitting the ball the way I’d like to,” said Werth, who was hitting .220 entering Sunday. “I went back and looked at some film, kinda lowered my hands a bit and did some drills. If you’re off because you’re banged up you probably don’t do as much [in-game work]. I’ve been feeling pretty good, healthy, got some good work in today and it paid off.”

Earlier in the inning, third baseman Anthony Rendon hit a solo home run to give Washington a 4-2 lead. In the bottom of the fourth, Bryce Harper drove in Michael A. Taylor to tie the score 1-1. Catcher Wilson Ramos added a two-run single then piled on with a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning,

The Nationals got consistent production from the lineup on Sunday — plus another strong performance from Stephen Strasburg, who improved to 9-0 — to salvage a split against the Cardinals.

“Well, it was good to get in whenever we can get it from all the guys,” manager Dusty Baker said. “It was nice to see Anthony reach the seats in right-center field, that was the capper.

“But like I said, this is a hot-weather team. The older players get going, generally around June. If you can hold on until then … it was nice to see Werth not only hit it out of the ball park, but he’s been swinging a lot better, sometimes with no results.”

As the Nationals head to Philadelphia for the start of a nine-game road trip, the hope is that the balanced output of offense continues. Rendon, who was hitting .211 during the first 32 games of the season, is batting .381 with nine extra base hits and 10 RBI since May 10. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is generally a slow starter in April, has responded with seven home runs this month, including two in Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals.

Zimmerman, who was 1-for-4 on Sunday, entered the game hitting .263 in May, an increase from the .219 average he hit in April.

“It’s tough to be consistent throughout a whole season. You’re going to go through two or three times a week, or 10 days that aren’t very good,” Zimmerman said. “Just gotta keep going, grind it out, play every day and when the situation comes, just do what you’re supposed to do.”

Throughout the season, Baker has been proactive about giving veteran players such as Zimmerman and Werth regular days off. While both players mentioned they’d rather be playing every day, especially when they’re healthy, they acknowledged the importance of periodic days off and how even one can help preserve their bodies during the rigors of a long season.

On Sunday, the rest paid dividends for Werth and the Nationals, even if Washington’s left fielder didn’t really have the day off after all.

“We’ve really given ourselves a chance here,” Werth said. “We started off good, lineup hasn’t necessarily clicked as a whole and guys have carried us and that’s what you want early in the season, just to win games. Now as the season goes on, our lineup will get some flow to it and click and hopefully we can win a bunch of games.”

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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