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Michael Morse's rehab stint has been put on hold indefinitely.
Just when it appeared Morse would be ready to rejoin the Nationals in time for Thursday's home opener, this not-so-pleasant update was provided: The club's cleanup hitter will remain out indefinitely after experiencing continued pain in his right lat muscle, pain so significant it prevented him from being able to throw a baseball from left field to the shortstop position during Monday's rehab game at low-Class A Hagerstown.
There's no way to sugarcoat this setback, and manager Davey Johnson didn't even attempt to in revealing the news.
"I didn't think it was even that serious," Johnson told reporters at Citi Field prior to Tuesday's game against the Mets. "I was kind of looking forward to penciling him into the lineup on Thursday. That's not going to happen. That concerns me."
The lack of a concrete diagnosis on Morse's lat -- two weeks ago, a sonogram suggested the small muscle tear had completely healed -- is particularly worrisome. At this point, the Nationals don't appear to know what exactly the problem is, what can be done to correct it or how long it will take to get Morse back on the field.
This much they do know: Morse can't play left field if he can't throw a ball 100 feet. And last time anyone checked, the don't let you DH in the National League.
Which would seem to suggest Morse won't be appearing in the Nationals' lineup anytime soon. Which would seem to be a major problem for the Nationals.
They might be well-positioned to compensate for Storen's prolonged stint on the DL, thanks to a deep and talented bullpen that includes Brad Lidge, Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard. But they aren't nearly as equipped to deal with the loss of Morse for any length of time.
Truth be told, the only player less replaceable on the current roster is probably Ryan Zimmerman. And we saw how much this team missed its star third baseman and No. 3 hitter last season when he missed two months with an abdominal tear.
The Nationals already looked like a club that would have to scratch and claw for runs on a nightly basis. The challenge only becomes more difficult with Morse on the shelf. And the pressure only falls more on the guys who will now be asked to anchor the heart of the lineup: Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth.
There shouldn't be any reason to be worried about Zimmerman. He raked at the plate all spring and has reached base in five of his last nine plate appearances. Reverse the wind direction at Wrigley Field on Opening Day and Zim would right now boast a .300 average, two homers and a 1.177 OPS.
And there doesn't appear to be reason to worry about LaRoche, who has quickly erased any lingering questions about the state of his surgically repaired left shoulder by going 8 for his last 17 with two homers and six RBI. (Though given his career .215 average and .397 slugging percentage in April, LaRoche is still no sure thing at the plate this time of the calendar year.)
Which brings us to Werth, who entered Thursday night's game just 1-for-14 on the young season and looking far too much like the un-clutch performer who slogged his way through 2011 than the all-around stud the Nationals felt was worth $126 million.
But just as you were ready to write him off, Werth exploded for a career-high four hits while driving in a pair of runs during the Nationals' 6-2 victory, contributing at last in a meaningful, positive way.
Perhaps that was merely the jumping-off point for Werth, who made a name for himself in Philadelphia in part because of his ability to carry a lineup while his bigger-name teammates recovered from injury. Or perhaps this was a flash in the pan, one nice night amidst a string of called third strikes and weak flyballs to right field.
With Morse out, no one will be closely watched and scrutinized more than Werth, who some believe put too much pressure on himself to perform last year after signing the big contract but reported to camp this spring feeling more comfortable and more secure.
If Werth can produce at a respectable level -- especially with men in scoring position -- and if Zimmerman and LaRoche can continue what they've already been doing, the Nationals can survive for a while without Morse.
But the margin for error just shrunk a bit more for a team that already wasn't built to score runs in bunches.
The Nationals are going to be without their cleanup hitter for some time. They can only hope the guys who were supposed to bat behind him can step up and fill those large shoes.