Rain shortened Nationals slugger Michael Morse’s rehab start for the Class A Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge on Tuesday night – but in nearly five innings of play, the Nationals’ projected cleanup hitter came to the plate twice and finished with a walk and a strikeout.
He played in three extended spring training games in Viera, Fla. but this was a closer step in his soon-approaching return to the majors. Morse, who has missed the first two months of the season with a strained lat muscle, hopes to return sooner than his target date of June 8.
“For not really seeing a lot of pitches in three months or something, I felt really good, almost normal,” Morse said. “You can actually say I surprised myself in how I felt. I know my swing and what I have to do. I’m just trying to be easy.”
Morse, who was hitting third as a designated hitter, drew a full-count walk in his first at-bat. Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Roman Mendez only truly threw one pitch over the plate, with the rest missing away.
In the first pitch of his second at-bat, Morse took a high fastball for a ball that backed him off the plate, which prompted a fan seated in the small Pfitzner Stadium to yell: “Do not hurt him.” Morse fouled off three straight outside pitches to the right side. Then, with a runner on second with one out, Morse swung and missed on a low and away slider.
Morse was due up in the bottom of the fifth inning but rain suspended the game with two outs in the top of the inning. (For those ardent Potomac Nationals fans, a heads-up: the game will resume on Wednesday at 6 p.m. followed by a seven-inning game.)
“He looked fine,” Potomac Nationals Manager Brian Rupp said. “Obviously his goal here is to get through this healthy and make sure everything feels good, and he was able to do that. I know it was only two at-bats. He felt a little jumpy his first one and able to slow it down his second one.”
Morse said he expects to play in both of Wednesday’s games. Rupp said the slugger will likely again see time at designated hitter. But Morse said he would like to play left field – a sign that he is improving in the area most affected by the injury: His throwing.
“Everyday I’m doing a throwing program, from 60 feet, 90, 100, 120,” Morse said. “I’m throwing more now than I ever threw in my life. I’m throwing 100 throws a day. The ball is coming out nice and easy. It feels great. I don’t feel any pain or nothing. If there’s a positive out of all this, my throwing mechanics are pretty sound.”