CLEARWATER, Fla. - Jayson Werth showed up at Bright House Networks Field yesterday with intentions to resurrect a baseball career that seemed near its end just last summer.
It's incredible how one pitch can change a life.
He stood in the batter's box for his second at-bat of his first spring training game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005, when former Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett hit him in the left wrist with a fastball. The ball hit the wrist so hard that Werth said he didn't want to take his hand off the bat because he thought he would see a couple bones sticking out.
He was told he would be fine in two weeks.
Two years later - and after some doubt he might ever play again - Werth is not only finally feeling close to healthy. He is all but a mortal lock to be the Phillies' fourth outfielder.
"As bad as it was and as bad as things went, it really couldn't have worked out any better," said Werth, whom the Phillies signed to a one-year, $400,000 contract that jumps to $850,000 if he makes the team.
He is expected to make the team, and back up starting outfielders Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino. Phillies general manager Pat Gillick selected Werth in the first round of the 1997 draft when Gillick was the Baltimore Orioles GM, so there is familiarity there.
Familiarity is good.
Especially because Werth didn't play last season after he battled through the injury in 102 games with the Dodgers in 2005.
He had his first wrist surgery Nov. 17, 2005, but the surgery hardly helped. He still had pain in the wrist. But then he finally got a little lucky. While visiting his home in Springfield, Ill., last summer, he went to the mailbox and ran into a family friend, who is a doctor. The doctor told him to visit a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. That specialist referred Werth to another doctor, Richard Berger, at Mayo.
"After that things started looking up," Werth said.
Werth, who can also catch and play first base, basically had sliced open a ligament in his wrist without tearing the ligament completely away from the bone. The procedure involved stitching the ligament together and immobilizing the wrist in a cast for six weeks.
"It's remarkable how much better it is," Werth said.
He picked up a bat for the first time in the middle of December and said he felt pretty good hitting off a machine by early January. He took batting practice yesterday, the first time he had seen live pitching in a year.
He said he has had no setbacks.
"I might need a couple weeks to get going to be sure, but I feel good," Werth said. "I feel strong. I don't foresee any problems getting back to full strength and being where I was."
That might be true, but why take a chance on somebody who hasn't played in more than a year?
The Phillies don't think it's a great risk at all.
"We feel very confident that he's going to be ready," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I guess anytime somebody has been out for a year because of an injury there's somewhat of a risk, but we're pretty confident we'll be OK. This guy has a lot of skills, and can do a lot of things. He's a very big tools guy. He can run. He can hit. He can play all three outfield positions. He can hit for power. If he comes back close to the player he was before he got hurt . . . we like to put ourselves in a position where if we would have breakdowns we'd have replaceable parts, and this is certainly a guy who can be an everyday player."
Werth is a career .245 hitter, but hit .262 with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs in 89 games for the Dodgers in 2004. His grandfather Dick "Ducky" Schofield played in the majors for 19 seasons, while his uncle, Dick Schofield, played in the majors for 14 seasons. His stepfather, Dennis Werth, played four years in the majors. His mother, Kim Schofield Werth, competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in the long jump and 100 meters.
Maybe his genes will help his comeback.
"From where I was to where I am now, I don't think I could be in any better shape or condition," he said. "It's all in the past. I'm just happy now that I'm in the situation that I'm in."
He's at spring training. There was a time he wasn't sure he'd ever be back.