Nationals Jayson Werth hoping to return opening day, still rehabbing from shoulder surgery

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VIERA, Florida — The Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth is back on the field, just not 100 percent yet.

Werth participated in outfield drills Thursday during the Nationals' first full-squad workout Thursday. But the left fielder was generally limited as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

Still, the fact Werth was with his teammates instead of hanging out with the trainers spoke volumes for manager Matt Williams.

"We didn't force him to be out there," Williams said. "He did it on his own. That's a great sign for our team that he was out there, doing what he can and being with his teammates, imparting some knowledge to the young guys and being a part of it in that way until he can get back to playing status and go."

Werth had arthroscopic surgery on Jan. 9 to repair the AC joint in his right shoulder and was expected to miss 2-3 months. Earlier this spring, general manager Mike Rizzo expressed optimism Werth would be ready by opening day and on Thursday, Werth sounded cautiously optimistic, saying, "That's kind of my goal."

At the same time, Werth doesn't want to rush back before he's ready.

"We've really got to get to that eight week point before you can really ramp up anything, and then again, it's 8-12 weeks before you can really get back to normal activity," Werth said.

"We're getting there. We're progressing. It's getting better. But (we've) still got a ways to go."

Though there is no exact timetable, Williams said it would be likely Werth will start hitting before he starts throwing. Williams also noted the left fielder is a notoriously slow starter in spring, where he likes to see a lot of pitches early on.

Further complicating matters for the Nationals is that outfielder Nate McClouth, who would likely be Werth's replacement if he is not ready, is on a throwing program as he works his way back from shoulder surgery.

Whenever Werth is ready to go this season, he will be moving from left field to right in a position swap with Bryce Harper.

"Usually, you put the guy in left that you're trying to hide, so I get to go hide in left," Werth joked.

Given his age — he'll turn 36 on May 20 — and Harper's big arm, Werth wasn't surprised at the move and doesn't think it will be a hard transition since he has played in left before.

Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals in 2010, noted how much perception has changed about the organization from the time he signed until pitcher Max Scherzer's recent seven-year, $210 million deal.

Like Werth, Scherzer said he came to Washington because he wanted to win. The only difference is, this time, people seem to believe him.

"My signing was almost laughable, I think, publicly," Werth said. "People didn't understand it, or scrutinized (it) heavily. GMs in the same division (were) making comments.

"Now, here we are four years later, and we're getting guys like Max to sign here. We've got one of the, if not the best teams in the National League, if not MLB. Things are looking up. It seems like my decision for coming here was a pretty good decision."

With players like shortstop Ian Desmond, outfielder Denard Span and pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister looming as potential free agents after 2015, Werth also knows this could be the last run at a championship with their current core group of players.

"This is really the pinnacle of this team that I came in on," Werth said. "Going forward, I think it's going to be a little different. We've got a chance to be competitive for a long time, but with this group of guys, this might be it."

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