Michael Morse, 29, is playing every day for the first time in his career, and he still can’t hide his feelings about that. “I wake up the morning, and I’m just so happy,” he said. “It’s more about that I’m so excited that I’m playing every day, getting to bat fifth in this lineup.”
After Morse finished speaking with reporters today, he literally skipped from the center of the Nationals clubhouse to his locker. So, no, his 2-for-17, six-strikeout start to the season has not gotten him down.
The Nationals gave Morse a day off to “let him step back,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, and “maybe getting him a day to breathe,” hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. Morse may be too excited or anxious in his new role, and it shows in how he’s hitting.
Morse is at his best when he’s using his power to the opposite field, smashing line drives to right-center. He hit a handful of his nine spring training home runs to right, particularly when he started spring 15 for 29. When he descended into an extended hitless slump following his sizzling start, Morse made most of his outs the way he’s making them now – pounding the ball into the ground to the third baseman and shortstop.
“I’m seeing the ball way too out-in-front right now,” Morse said. “I’m probably a little over-anxious. I just need to let the ball travel a little deeper and hit it the other way.”
In the batting cage before batting practice, Morse today worked on staying back. On the field for batting practice, he chatted with veteran Matt Stairs, who is something of a hitting mentor for several Nationals, including Jayson Werth.
“His comfort in the box has escaped him,” Eckstein said. “He’s trying to get comfortable back in the box. He’s been on that same cycle. Today, working with him, doing his thing, he looks much better, much more in control of himself. It’s a comfort thing.”
Morse understands that if his 2-for-17 stretch happened in, say, June, few people would notice. But since it’s the only stats he’s got, it stands out. It also hasn’t helped that he’s 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position. Getting out of slumps, he realizes, is part of his new role as an everyday player.
“Playing every day, you’re going to have ups and downs,” Morse said. “Not playing every day, usually your downs, you’re trying to think about the next time you’re going to play. Knowing that I get an opportunity to play every day, I just take these couple of 0-fer days and just build off of them, look at what they did to get me out, and know I’ll be in there tomorrow.
“I just need to calm down, be myself. Just play. It’s something I’m not worried about. I know that I can hit, and I know that I’ll turn things around. We all want to start off with a great start. I’ll start when we play the Mets.”