Friday, June 1, 2012
The Morse Effect
Michael Morse could make his season debut for the Nationals tonight.
That decision hasn't officially been made yet, and it's possible the club will want the slugger to play at least one more game on his rehab assignment, get a few more at-bats and make a few more throws from the outfield before activating him off the disabled list.
But there's certainly a chance we'll see Morse in the lineup tonight against the Braves, or at worst within the next few days. And once he does rejoin the Nationals after missing nearly three months with a torn right lat muscle, his effect on the team should be profound.
Start, of course, with Morse's bat, which will be a welcome addition to a Nationals lineup that currently ranks 12th in the NL in batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.313), ninth in slugging percentage (.394) and 13th in runs scored (192).
Now, it's probably too much to ask for Morse to step right in and immediately pick up where he left off at the end of his breakthrough 2011, when he led the club with a .303 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI. It may take a little while for him to get comfortable facing big-league pitching again.
There's also the possibility Morse won't be the same hitter he was a year ago, that his breakthrough season was an anomaly, not a precursor to more of the same. (Though there's plenty of reason to believe it was not a fluke.)
More than anything else, Morse's return should have a positive effect on the rest of the Nationals' lineup. What at times this year has been a less-than-imposing starting nine all of a sudden looks a lot more potent.
Where will Morse hit? For now, look for manager Davey Johnson to slot him in the fifth spot, behind the Bryce Harper-Ryan Zimmerman-Adam LaRoche trio that has worked well to date. Opposing pitchers might be less inclined to pitch around LaRoche now, and Morse certainly should find himself with plenty of RBI opportunities there.
Where will he play in the field? Look for him to start out in right field, a position he didn't play last season but did man some in 2010. This wasn't the Nationals' original plan, but with Jayson Werth injured and Steve Lombardozzi establishing himself as a viable leadoff hitter and left fielder, it probably makes the most sense for now.
That will leave the Nationals with a potent offensive outfield of Lombardozzi, Harper and Morse ... and though defense could be a bit shaky, Johnson will have Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina available off the bench should his team hold a lead late.
Will Morse's return cure everything that ails the Nationals? No. They're still dealing with plenty of other injuries and have plenty of other question marks.
But after surviving the season's first two months with nothing but negative news on the injury front, it's nice to know they're finally getting a key player back instead of losing one.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 9:12 AM