March 6, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Michael Morse (38) before the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The last reports on Michael Morse on Friday said the 29-year-old outfielder's lat strain was getting better and he was set to begin a throwing program this weekend with some at bats against minor league competition in his future before he begins Grapefruit League competition in earnest. Morse was 1 for 2 in the one game he played before the lat issues interrupted his Spring. Maybe it's better for Morse to start a little later? After a .364/.421/.818 Spring in 2011 in which Morse hit three doubles and nine home runs in 21 games and 66 at bats, when he had a slow start to the season, then-Nats' skipper Jim Riggleman wrote it off as a case of a hitter who has, "... such a good Spring [that] he almost just feels like, 'I've wasted a lot of hits,' and he talks himself out of getting off to a good start.'"
Morse told MLB Network Radio hosts Cliff Floyd and Jim Memolo in an early February interview this year that it was all about getting prepared for Opening Day, not just the start of Spring Training. In the past, Morse explained, when he was battling for a spot on an Opening Day roster, "... right when Spring Training starts, I'm trying to prove to a team or an organization that I belong and by the time Spring Training's over I'm tired. And now it's like they push the reset button [at the start of the regular season] and it's like, 'OK, here we go, now we really start.' And sometimes you can get tired like that, so my goal, personally, in Spring Training, is to get stronger, work on my skills, play games, but in the bigger picture, I want to be ready for that Opening Day."
"Last year," Morse continued, "I had a great Spring Training. I played pretty much every day and April came around I was done. I didn't play good and actually, I lost the position in left field and I was back on the bench. And at that point I was like, 'Man, in Spring Training I could hit everything, and now I'm struggling.' So, I definitely really want to get out of the blocks this year in April and May on fire for sure." Morse started the 2011 campaign with a .211/.253/.268 line, one double and one home run in 23 games and 79 PA's in March and April, but he caught fire and was 25 for 62 with five doubles and six home runs in May, putting up a .403/.422/.774 line over 22 games.
In spite of his early season issues, Morse finished the 2011 season with a .303/.360/.550 line, 36 doubles and 31 HR's in 146 games and 575 plate appearances. In 2008, a then-25-going-on-26-year-old Morse was 32 for 65 (.492/.548/.769 with nine doubles and three home runs) in 25 games and 65 Spring Training at bats with the Mariners, earning a platoon spot in Seattle's outfield on Opening Day only to suffer a torn labrum on a diving play in the outfield. The injury ended his season. After a .275/.345/.392 Spring in '09, Morse started the year at Triple-A in the M's system, and he had a .312/.370/.481 slash with 14 doubles and 10 HR's in 66 games and 289 at bats before the Nationals acquired him in a June trade for OF Ryan Langerhans.
Morse, then 27, had a .339/.404/.558 line with 12 doubles and six HR's at Triple-A in the Nats' system in '09 before a call-up to D.C. in late-August and he had a .250/.291/.481 line in 32 games at the major league level that season. In Spring Training in 2010, Morse was 19 for 62 with a .306/.328/.468 line, four doubles and two home runs in 25 games, breaking camp with the major league team but losing out to Willy Taveras in a battle to be part of a platoon in right field. Soon after the season started, however, (within a week) the Nationals turned to Morse for his bat only to have him suffer a calf injury which kept him out of the lineup until May 16th. After returning, Morse had a .292/.355/.527 line with 12 doubles and 15 HR's in 94 games and 287 plate appearances.
Maybe Morse is taking the right approach this year? Who cares what happens this Spring as long as he's ready for Opening Day? The 29-year-old outfielder, who'll turn 30 in 11 days, signed a 2-year/$10.5M dollar extension this winter, he has the support of his manager and the comfort of knowing he's going to hit in the middle of the order and start in left field. Maybe a slow Spring will lead to a hot start this time around?