Werth grateful for the opportunity
Outfielder hit .262 with 16 homers, 47 RBIs with Dodgers
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- One pitch cost Jayson Werth nearly two years.When A.J.'s Burnett's wayward 96-mph fastball smacked into his left wrist -- a rude greeting for a second Spring Training at-bat with the 2005 Dodgers -- the ball hit with such force that Werth didn't want to take his hand off the bat. He thought he'd see a couple bones sticking out. "I didn't look down," Werth said. "I thought I was going to look down and see two bones sticking out." Despite the pain, he was told he'd be fine in two weeks. "I think they meant to say two years," Werth said, joking. Despite the painful lost time, Werth can joke again because he said this from a locker room, this one at Bright House Networks Field, where he plans to resurrect a baseball that he nearly gave up on last summer. Healthy again, he appears a lock to be the Phillies' fourth outfielder. Ironically, he simply has to prove he's healthy, and flash the skills that made him a first-round pick out of Glenwood (Ill.) High in 1997, selected when Phillies general manager Pat Gillick ran the Orioles. "As bad as it was and as bad as things went, it really couldn't have worked out any better," Werth said. The beginning of Werth's recovery is worth a story in itself. When he struggled in 2005, the first year of his injury, Werth had surgery on Nov. 17 that year. The pain remained, costing him the 2006 season. Then, in May, while returning home for two days on his way to another appointment with another surgeon, the down-on-his-luck outfielder's life changed. He went to the mailbox and ran into a family friend, a doctor, who implored him to visit a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. That specialist referred Werth to Dr. Richard Berger, also at Mayo. Keep following the bouncing ball. While Werth might have found his way to the Mayo Clinic anyway, this expedited the process. Berger diagnosed the problem as a split tear of the ulnotriquetral ligament, a condition that may have existed before Burnett's fastball shattered Werth's wrist. The issue is a common one for bowlers and golfers.
The surgery in August left Werth in a cast until October; he picked up a bat in December and began hitting off a machine in January. The Phillies thought so much of his progress that they signed him to a one-year, $400,000 deal, increasing to $850,000 if he makes the team.That is expected, and Werth is slated to back up starting outfielders Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino. Werth said he can even catch in a pinch. The team sees a player with a lot of skills, one who can run, hit for power, and play all three outfield spots. If he returns to the pre-injury version of himself, the Phillies feel they might have a bargain. On Monday at Bright House Networks Field, he took his first live batting practice since 2005. To help with the pressure, Werth uses knobless bats, and he said he may wear a protective guard. "It's remarkable how much better it is," Werth said. "I might need a few weeks to be sure, but I feel good. I feel strong. I don't foresee any problems getting back to full strength and being where I was." "He looked OK to me," manager Charlie Manuel added. "He's going to get to play a lot [in Spring Training]. It may take him some at-bats [to get ready], because he didn't play last year." A career .245 hitter, Werth hit .262 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in 89 games with the Dodgers in 2004. He has tremendous baseball bloodlines. Grandfather Dick "Ducky" Schofield played in the Major Leagues for 19 seasons, and his uncle, Dick Schofield, played for 14 years. Stepfather Dennis Werth, pitched for four years in the Majors. His mother, Kim Schofield Werth, competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in the long jump and 100 meters -- nice genes. "I can't think of anything else I could be doing," Werth said. "From where I was to where I am now, I don't think I could be in any better shape or condition. It's all in the past. I'm just happy now that I'm in the situation that I'm in. "In the middle of last summer, before I went to see the doctor at Mayo, it came in my mind quite a bit if I would ever play again. It was like, who's going to take a chance on a guy like me? I'm grateful for everything that happened, to get an opportunity like this."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.