Michael Morse is starting today at designated hitter. In coming games, he’ll play left field, the position the Nationals have him slated to play all season. The position Morse will not play all spring, Manager Davey Johnson said, is first base.
Last year, Morse took over at first base when Adam LaRoche went down for the season in May with a torn labrum. His move from the outfield to first coincided with his offensive breakout, an offensive surge that ended with him hitting 30 home runs and emerging as the Nationals’ best hitter.
“He worked hard and got comfortable at first,” Johnson said. “With Adam being out, we needed to see if he could get some experience going to left. I was thinking about, whoever is going to be here next year, it’d be nice if Mo’ could play in the outfield. With LaRoche being here for sure this year and probably next year if he has a big year this year, that is what the roster dictated.”
(A quick aside: LaRoche will make $8 million this season, and the Nationals have an option for him in 2013 worth $10 million. All logic dictates that the Nationals will simply buy LaRoche out for $1 million rather than picking up the option – move Morse back to first base, acquire a long-term center fielder, put Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper at the corners and wish Laroche well. So, saying LaRoche will “probably” be back after “he has a big year” is classic Davey. He is, at once, trying to publicly ease any concerns LaRoche may have about his future and casually setting a high expectation for him.)
Even with LaRoche’s health still in question, the Nationals will not use Morse at first base this spring. With Mark DeRosa, LaRoche, Chad Tracy and others needing playing time at first base, Johnson would rather let Morse re-adjust in left field. Morse started last season as the Nationals’ left field, and in September, Johnson moved him back to left to prepare for this season.
“I’ve got enough of them over there” at first base, Johnson said. “I’m probably shorter in outfield candidates than I am at people who can play first.”
Johnson also plans to give Jayson Werth ample time in center field. It seems only a matter of time as to when Werth will become the Nationals’ center fielder this year. If Bryce Harper makes the team, Werth would become the center field. If not, then he’d move there if and when Harper is promoted.
From 2008 to 2010, Werth started 51 games in center field for the Phillies. At the end of last season, Johnson moved Werth to center field for 17 games in order to prepare for him this season. In Johnson’s mind, Werth playing center is a non-issue.
“He showed Philadelphia he can do it,” Johnson said. “He showed me he could it here last year. So, I mean, it’s not a tryout. It’s not something he hasn’t done. He likes it, actually.”