[Updated 11:10 p.m.]
Hampered by AC joint inflammation in his right shoulder, Jayson Werth had been out recovering for seven days before coming off the bench in the Nats' win over the Pirates on Sunday night. He had a cortisone shot three days prior and hadn't swung a bat against live pitching in a week.
On Friday it looked like he would return to the lineup on Sunday, but then he felt pain during a batting practice session. Not so fast, he wasn't quite ready.
Then the circumstances of Sunday's game unfolded, as the Nats went down early to the Pittsburgh Pirates to later take a 4-2 lead, before a blown save by closer Rafael Soriano helped send the teams to extra innings. As the game seesawed back and forth, Werth picked up a bat and headed to the indoor batting cage at Nationals Park.
Werth took swings to test his shoulder and came out during the ninth inning to talk to manager Matt Williams. The skipper, however, told him he would not be used.
But then Soriano let it slip away, and before the bottom of the ninth began, Werth again picked up his bat.
"When the game tied up, I went back down there and swung again and felt like if I had to, I could make a difference," he said.
The Nationals' entered the bottom of the ninth down 5-4 after Soriano allowed three runs to come across. Werth again walked up to Williams, this time with better luck.
"I came back out, told him I was available and the situation came up and they used me.”
After Michael Taylor struck out to lead off against Mark Melancon, Werth stepped to the plate to an emphatic ovation from the 34,430 in attendance.
Werth would draw a walk and then move to third on a single by Denard Span. Asdrubal Cabrera then singled to right field to score Werth and tie the game at 5-5.
"He was getting loose all game, so we kept monitoring him," Williams said. "Two-run lead, we’re not gonna use him if we don’t have to. But we had to. And it paid dividends, again."
Werth would remain in the game in right field as a replacement for Taylor. He would also get another chance at the plate two innings later.
Leading off the 11th inning against Brandon Cumpton, Werth laced a double off the wall in left field. Hitting balls the other way has been an issue for him lately, as that can make his shoulder act up. Getting a ball to pull was the best-case scenario.
Werth also shortened his swing to ease the pain. He compared it to an adjustment me made in 2012 before he returned off the DL from a broken wrist.
Span followed by grinding out a six-pitch at-bat to move Werth to third on a groundball. That set up a pinch-hit situation for Scott Hairston with one out. Hairston would deliver with a flyball to left field, giving Werth plenty of breathing room to score on a sacrifice.
Werth made it home easily to give the Nats the 6-5 win, their second walk-off victory in as many days. Hairston himself was impressed with Werth's willingness to come in at less than 100 percent.
"Jayson, we're so used to seeing him be clutch like that," Hairston said. "That was huge. He showed a lot of leadership today."
Now comes the question of when Werth can make a full return. The Nats are in the middle of a season-high six-game winning streak, but they could use his help. Sunday was a dramatic reminder of that.
"There’s a lot at stake here this season, and I want to be a part of it," he said. "I felt it was worth the risk tonight. In a game like that, I wanted to keep the streak going and win a game. So I went for it."