Michael Morse waited two months for today. He waited through an agonizing series of setbacks and a tedious rehab regimen. He even waited one extra day after a rainout. He wanted the wait to be worth it. “I was expecting 4 for 4, four home runs, you know, a couple grand slams,” he joked.
In his first game this season, Morse went 0 for 4 with all four plate appearances ending with the same result – a groundout to shortstop. He played eight innings in right field before being pulled for a defensive replacement in the ninth, and Stephen Strasburg’s dominance in a 2-0 win over the Braves ensured he didn’t get much action in the field. Morse beamed afterward, happy for a win and happy to be back.
With two outs in the first inning and two runners on base, Morse walked from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box for the first time this season. The speakers blared his familiar walk-up music, A-ha’s “Take On Me.” The 41,042 at Nationals Park, a sellout crowd, showered Morse with a standing ovation.
“That’s probably one of the coolest things I’ve had happen,” Morse said. “That gave me goosebumps. That tells you the fans that we have here. That was great, that little moment I had there. I appreciate the fans for all their support.”
Morse could not quite live up to the applause. He grounded out to shortstop, cracking his bat in the process. In his second at-bat, Morse hit another groundball to short and the entire barrel flew toward shortstop. One scout who watched Morse in his rehab appearance Thursday at Class A Potomac said, “His bat is still a little slow, but it’ll come.”
Morse grounded out to shortstop once again in his third at-bat. After ran through first base, he walked off the field swinging an imaginary bat, trying to capture the right feel for his swing. In his fourth at-bat, he hit the ball sharper and more in the hole, but Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons still gobbled it up.
“I felt good. Every at-bat, I felt more comfortable,” Morse said. “First at-bat, I kind of felt a little jumpy. My last at-bat, I felt kind of like I should be.”
At the start of the ninth, Manager Davey Johnson removed Morse in favor of Rick Ankiel and shifted into an outfield, from left to right, of Xavier Nady, Ankiel and Bryce Harper. The switch gave the Nationals a better defense to protect their 2-0 lead. But Johnson told Morse, “Don’t get the idea I’m going to be defending for you.”
Johnson wanted to help keep Morse fresh for Sunday’s game, but he does not plan on removing him late in games for a defensive replacement.
“I won’t,” Johnson said. “I didn’t last year. I have no plans of doing it this year. But first time back, he probably didn’t mind. He didn’t seem to when I told him he was coming out.”