After Michael Morse played five innings in right field tonight at Class A Potomac, he still did know if he would join the Nationals on Friday night at Nationals Park for his long-awaited season debut. But he did know this: If the Nationals chose to call up their best slugger, he said, “then I’d be ready.”
In his third rehab game at Potomac, and the first in which he played the field, Morse went 0 for 3 and received one test in the outfield, making a long throw in from right. Morse said he did not feel any effects from the strained lat he developed early in spring training and had rendered him unable to throw.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Morse said. “There’s nothing bothering me. The lat’s the last thing I’m thinking about. The only thing I’m thinking about is hitting. That’s when you know the injury’s good. I’m thinking totally about other things.”
Several Nationals officials, including bench coach Randy Knorr, head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and minor league field coordinator Bobby Henley, sat in the stands behind home plate. Morse chatted afterward with Kuntz and Knorr.
Morse didn’t know if he would play tomorrow in Washington – “an outside possibility,” Manager Davey Johnson said Wednesday – or move his rehab to Class AA Harrisburg. But he wants to play in the majors.
“I feel good, so if that helps,” Morse said. “I feel like I’m 18 all over again. I’m hoping to get a call up.”
Tonight, against Myrtle Beach, Morse chased down a double into the right field corner and made a solid throw from the warning track to the cutoff man, the second baseman standing on the edge of the infield dirt.
Morse said he actually thinks he has a better outfield arm now than he ever has before. Morse came up as a shortstop, and when he began playing outfield more regularly he never changed his form. While rehabbing in Florida, Morse performed a daily throwing regimen that allowed him to change his mechanics.
“I’m throwing like an outfielder now,” Morse said.
When Morse returns, he will play right field for the Nationals. With Jayson Werth out until late July or August, Johnson will play Steve Lombardozzi in left, Harper in center and Morse in right. Morse played left field at the end of last season and at the very start of spring training, but he played right field for much of 2010.
“To me, outfield is outfield,” Morse said. “I like playing right, actually. I wish Jayson would be out there in right. But until he comes back, I guess I can hold his fort down.”
In his first at-bat tonight, Morse ripped a lineout to second base. In his second, Myrtle Beach right-hander Kyle Hendricks jammed Morse with an inside fastball, and he hit a dribbler halfway to the mound for an out. In his final at-bat, he rolled a grounder to shortstop.
In three games at Potomac, he went 3 for 9 with a double off the right-field wall. Morse, who hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs last year, felt his timing is mostly back.
“I think I’m pretty good,” Morse said. “It’s hard to get the same feel of being in a big league park, a big league stadium, have that mentality. That’s what I was trying to do today. But I feel good. I feel good. I can’t wait to go back.”
The Nationals placed Morse in “shutdown mode” for six weeks at the start of the season, but Morse still ran stairs on a daily basis to keep his legs in shape.
“I feel like I’m in the best baseball shape I’ve been in in a long time,” Morse said. “Just because I’ve been running the stairs for two months. I feel good. Baseball shape, that comes with being on your feet for four hours. Really, in the offseason, all you can do is put your spikes on and stand outside. I feel good. I feel healthy. That’s the big thing right now.
“It’s opening day for me soon.”