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DODGERS

Phillies' Jayson Werth has name recognition now

The right fielder, let go by the Dodgers after the 2006 season, has enjoyed a breakout season with 36 home runs and 99 RBIs.

October 18, 2009|Ben Bolch

PHILADELPHIA — Grady Little understood the question.

He just didn't recognize the name.

"Who?" asked Little, then the Dodgers manager, in August 2006 after a reporter inquired about the status of Jayson Werth.

It was a clear indication of how the outfielder -- sidelined for the entire season by a nagging wrist injury -- figured into the Dodgers' long-term plans. That is to say, he didn't.

Sure enough, assistant General Manager Kim Ng called Werth a few months after the season ended to tell him he had been released.

"I was more surprised than anything," said Werth, who had been the Dodgers' starting left fielder in the 2004 National League division series. "There was talk of that; I just didn't think that was what was going to happen. But it did."

Three years later, Werth no longer struggles with name recognition. He may be as universally recognized in Philadelphia as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

That's what happens when you hit .444 in the World Series to help your team win its first championship in 28 years. Tonight, Werth hopes to help Philadelphia take another step toward baseball's biggest stage when the Phillies play the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park. The teams are 1-1 so far in the best-of-seven-games series.

Even though he reached base only once in the first two games, Werth has enjoyed a breakout season. He set career highs with 153 hits, 98 runs, 36 home runs and 99 runs batted in, becoming a first-time All-Star in the process.

"It's surprising because with J-Dub, he's had a lot of injuries throughout his career," Howard said of his teammate's power surge. "It's just a matter of him being able to stay healthy and playing a full year and getting the opportunity to play."

Werth's lineage doesn't hurt either. His grandfather, Dick "Ducky" Schofield, won a World Series with the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. His uncle, former longtime Angels shortstop Dick Schofield Jr., won a World Series with the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

"I don't know if there's been three generations in a family that have won a World Series," Dick Schofield Jr. said. "He's got some pretty good blood in him."

He also has exceptional instincts. Werth became the first Phillie to steal three bases in an inning since Pete Rose and stole four bases, including home plate, during a May game against the Dodgers when he noticed that catcher Russell Martin was lobbing the ball back to reliever Ronald Belisario.

"Jayson Werth has probably hurt us in more ways than one with his legs, with his defense, with his hitting," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said.

There has been plenty of literal pain on the path to stardom. Werth broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch during spring training in 2005 and never fully recovered, hitting .234 with the Dodgers.

It wasn't until after that season ended that doctors discovered Werth had suffered two torn ligaments in the wrist. He sat out all of 2006, prompting concerns that he might never play again.

Finally, Werth caught a different kind of break when a family friend suggested he visit the Mayo Clinic's hand clinic in Rochester, Minn. Werth made an appointment to see Dr. Richard A. Berger.

"Right away the guy gave me some good indications that I'd be OK," Werth said. "He knew what was wrong. I think at the time he was one of the only people in the world doing the surgery for that injury and I happened to find him."

Even though the Phillies signed Werth shortly after he parted ways with the Dodgers, it took some prodding on his part to crack the starting lineup.

He brought Charlie Manuel a highlight tape from his 2004 season and continually lobbied for playing time. He finally became a regular in the lineup in August when Shane Victorino suffered a calf injury.

Still, the Phillies signed veteran Geoff Jenkins before the 2008 season, relegating Werth to a part-time role until Jenkins strained his hip late in the year. Werth took over and hit .309 in the playoffs to win the everyday job.

Werth refuses to blame the Dodgers for giving up on him when they did. Of course, a World Series ring and the opportunity to bat behind Howard in the Phillies' lineup have softened the blow considerably.

"It's actually a pretty good story, really, going from where I was to where I am now," he said. "I'm excited about it and pretty happy that things went the way they did."

--

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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