Michael Morse was given a day off on Sunday. There were no lingering injuries or reasons he sat other than to give him a day off, as Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson told reporters. When he returned to the lineup for Monday's Labor Day afternoon start the Nationals' big middle-of-the-order bat responded with a 2 for 4, 2 HR game which lifted his season slash to .315/.369/.562 after 126 games and 445 plate appearances. "I hate to take him out of the lineup," Johnson said, referring to the day off on Sunday, "Now I might have to rest him more often if he comes back and hits two bombs. But, he's been very consistent, swung the bat really good, hit the ball basically on the button every time. He and [Ryan Zimmerman] have been very consistent since they got back in the swing of things."
The date everyone points to as the turning point in Michael Morse's season was May 21st, Adam LaRoche's last game before a shoulder injury ended his first season in D.C. Before then, Morse had a .258/.286/.351 slash after a ridiculous Spring Training that had seen him hit three doubles and nine HR's in 21 games and 66 at bats, while posting a gaudy .364/.421/.818 Spring slash. Morse hit just two HR's in his first 36 games and 105 plate appearances. In April, Morse had a .211/.253/.268 slash, confirming the thoughts of those who felt the 29-year-old seven-year MLB vet would be exposed in time after a breakout 2010 season in which he'd had the most plate appearances since his rookie campaign in 2005.
From the time he started to see regular playing time, in mid-May 2010, through the end of the 2010 campaign, Morse had a .292/.355/.527 slash with 12 doubles and 15 HR's in 94 games and 287 plate appearances. Over the last two years, Morse has a .303/.363/.546 line with 44 doubles and 41 HR's in 711 at bats and 783 plate appearances. The baseball world is beginning to take note.
SI.com's Joe Lemire featured the Nats' 1B/LF in a recent article entitled, "Nationals' beastly slugger Morse heads All-Underrated team", in which named Morse the MVP of the All-Underrated team, and described the hulking 6'5'', 230 lb Morse as, "2011 season's least heralded breakout star." After five unremarkable seasons, and two breakout years, however, some still wondered when the numbers Morse was putting up could be considered "legit." Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson was asked that question yesterday. When is it "real" in baseball?
"It's real right now," the Nationals' manager replied. "He knows what he's trying to do. He knows his approach. He knows how they're trying to pitch him. He's got tremendous power the other way and obviously they're going to try to pound him in and he knows how to get at it. So, he knows the strike zone, he's learning more about the strike zone inside, and you see him taking more pitches, not even offering at them inside. That's when you know a hitter's got a good command of the strike zone and he also knows what they're trying to do."
"One HR," Davey Johnson continued, "I think it was the second one, they tried to get the ball in, the whole ball was probably just off the inside part of the plate, but he crushed it. So that's when you look at hitters, knowing they got the book on you, and believe me they get a book on you, I don't care if you're hitting eighth, but when you're hitting cleanup they really got a book on you and you'll see a lot of tendency, the 3-4-5 have similar books on them, because all of them have tremendous power the other way. To me it's real, he knows he can hit the ball the other way and he's making adjustments in, so to me it's real."