PHOENIX -- Asked yesterday afternoon about Michael Morse's dramatic turnaround from April to May, Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein gave all the credit to Morse.
"He's been able to relax a little more," Eckstein said. "He's been able to let the ball come to him and not try to go get the ball, which is an attribute of a player whose heart is in the right place. He's trying to get things done, but ultimately that's not how you get it done. He's been able to relax and get in his hitting position, be able to pick up the ball early and ultimately put his swing on the ball.
Morse's turnaround has been stunning. After hitting .211 with a .521 OPS in April, he's now hitting a major-league-best .429 with a 1.229 OPS since May 1. His production has improved by more than 200 percent from one month to the next.
And, despite Eckstein's aversion to taking credit, Morse is heaping all kinds of praise on his hitting coach.
"Words can't describe it," Morse said after going 4-for-5 last night. "We've had some loud talks, mostly on his side and me listening. He cares a lot about me, and I appreciate all the hard work and the sweat he's put in to help me be a better player, and to show me to prove to myself I'm a good enough player to play here. He knows what it takes, and he knows what it takes mentally to be a good hitter."
Eckstein also knows what it takes physically to improve at the plate. One key adjustment he made with Morse involved the position of his hands as he prepares to begin his swing. It looks kind of awkward, with Morse holding both arms straight out over the plate. But he's got the natural power and quick hands needed to make it work, and the benefit is that he no longer has any wasted motion trying to get himself into a proper hitting position.
As for those "loud talks" Eckstein has with Morse...
"Sometimes you just get down on yourself, and he's there to push you," Morse said. "It's a gift he has that's great. I'm fortunate enough to be around him. He's helped me a lot with my ability to hit."
OK, so Eckstein gets some credit for Morse's improved offense. But when it comes to improved defense, Morse deserves all the praise.
Any fears the Nationals had about losing Adam LaRoche's glove at first base have been quickly eased by Morse's superb glovework since taking over. He made two nifty plays on sharp grounders in the bottom of the seventh last night to help preserve Jordan Zimmermann's gem.
"Mike Morse saved me big-time at first today with a couple diving plays," Zimmermann said following the 6-1 victory over the Diamondbacks. "He's been playing unbelievable over there."
Here's a little-known fact about Morse: He's committed 12 errors in his big-league career. All of them came in 2005 with the Mariners, all of them at shortstop.
That's right. In 499 total chances at four other positions over the last five-plus seasons, Morse has been charged with zero errors.
"I'm not trying to be an Adam LaRoche," Morse said of his recent play at first base. "He's a great player. I can't wait for him to get back. I'm just going to try to fill in wherever I can. I'm just trying to get some at-bats and help the team as much as possible."
Right now, he's doing that in a bunch of ways.