In explaining the slow start to Michael Morse's 2011 campaign, which saw the 29-year-old 1B/OF post a .211/.253/.268 slash line with one double and one home run in 23 games and 79 plate appearances in March/April after he'd hit three doubles and nine HR's with a .364/.421/.818 slash in 21 games and 66 at bats this Spring, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman told Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio "First Pitch" hosts Jim Memolo and Rob Dibble in an interview Wednesday morning that quite simply, "...it happens sometimes."
"A guy has such a good Spring and he almost just feels like, 'I've wasted a lot of hits,'" Riggleman said, "and he talks himself out of getting off to a good start. And [Morse] just couldn't buy a base hit practically the first month of the season, and really lost his playing time to Laynce Nix who was doing a really good job for us. We worked Mike back in there, he was starting to play a little bit, [Adam] LaRoche got hurt, we moved [Morse] to first base and he's been pretty much the same as he was in Spring Training. He's getting a lot of hits for us, he's playing an outstanding first base, and you know, it's well-deserved, he's worked really hard. He's 29-years-old and he's worked a really long time to become a regular in the big leagues and it's happening for him right now."
Adam LaRoche's last game of the season was on May 21st. On May 22nd, Morse, who'd already begun to turn things around, entered play with a .267/.294/.356 slash line. On May 23rd, Morse hit his 3rd HR of the year, his first since May 3rd. He'd hit home runs in each of the next three games. Morse' monster May, in which he was 25 for 62 with five doubles, six home runs and a .403/.422/.774 slash, left him at .301/.329/.504 on May 31st. In 14 games and 56 at bats in June, Morse has a .339/.413/.696 slash. After last night's 3 for 4, 2-HR-game against the Cardinals, the Nats' first baseman has 11 doubles, 12 HR's and a .312/.352/.561 line on the year.
In what was the best stretch of his career, and really the first time he'd gotten significant at bats in the majors since making his debut with 72 games for Seattle in 2005, Morse hit 12 doubles and 15 HR's in 98 games and 293 plate appearances last season, finishing the year with a .289/.352/.519 line, a .330 BABIP, .229 ISO and a +1.1 WAR. Surely he couldn't sustain that production, he'd be exposed as an everyday player. Morse's ridiculous .442 BABIP in May this year has come down to a more reasonable .389 BABIP so far in June, but his seemingly unsustainable luck from last season has continued/increased with a .359 BABIP thus far in 2011. Morse has a .249 ISO, .390 wOBA (up from .374 in 2010), 146 wRC+ (up from 132 wRC+in '10), a +1.3 WAR. His LD% is up, 15.8% in 2010 to 19.6% this season, his HR/FB% has jumped from 19.5% in 2010 to 21.4%.
Morse leads the Nationals with 12 HR's to Danny Espinosa's 11, RBI's with 40 to Espinosa's 37, batting average .312 to Nix's .295, (Zim's hitting .316 in 10 games). Morse's .354 OBP is the highest amongst the Nats' regulars, as is his SLG .561 to Nix's .538. The D.C. Faithful are ahead of the rest of the baseball world in embracing The People's Champion, the "BEAST MODE" t-shirt he wore on MASN the other day following the Nats' big comeback has already caught the Nationals' fanbase's attention. (Or at least the attention of the Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg.) Can he continue to crush pitches and play an errorless first? Are we past the point of expecting Morse to be exposed when he's playing on an everyday basis or are his 296 games and 891 career plate appearances still too small a sample size to form an opinion? Who cares, enjoy it while it lasts...