The Nationals are optimistic slugger Michael Morse could return sooner than the beginning of interleague play June 8, which had been their target date. Morse, who reported to Viera, Fla., last week, will play in an extended spring training game Friday and could begin a minor league rehab assignment by next week.
Morse has been on the disabled list all season with a strained muscle underneath his right armpit that has prevented him from throwing with any strength. He recently ended a six-week “shutdown” period and has been performing baseball activities in Florida.
Manager Davey Johnson said Morse will “for sure” return by June 8, when the Nationals play in Fenway Park and Morse could serve as the designated hitter. He added, “some people are thinking it might be accelerated ahead of then.”
Morse, who hit 31 homers with a .910 slugging percentage last year, has been able to swing without issue. His ability to throw at full strength will determine whether he returns on June 8 as a DH or sooner, as an outfielder in a National League game.
“In Morse’s mind, he’s ready as soon as he plays in one game,” Johnson said. “His throwing is what aggravated his arm. I’m not much worried about his hitting, because he’s always thinking about hitting. I’m more worried about throwing. That could aggravate it.”
Morse had been penciled in as the Nationals’ cleanup hitter before the season. But with Adam LaRoche’s emergence as a potential all-star, Morse would likely bat fifth when he comes back. That would also allow the Nationals to keep a right-left-right mix to their order, with Bryce Harper having taken over in the second spot.
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