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Posted at 07:58 PM ET, 03/18/2011

Michael Morse’s slump won’t affect his standing

Michael Morse became the story of Nationals camp when he began the spring by going 15 for 29 with five home runs, a performance he used to seize the left field position all for his own. You knew the inevitable regression would. You didn’t know it would come so swiftly. Morse, in a slump that coincided roughly to the day Manager Jim Riggleman and General Manager Mike Rizzo anointed him the left, has gone 0 for his last 14.

Just as some of his absurdly hot start could be chalked up to good luck, some of his slump could be chalked up to bad luck. In the final at-bat of Thursday night’s game, Morse hit a laser – only to have the left field make a highlight-reel diving catch. The 12-hoppers that snuck through the infield are no longer reaching the outfield, and the rockets that should be hits are getting caught.

“It can be a little misleading,” Riggleman said. “But it can get in your head when you start accumulating numbers that are 0-fers.”

But not all of it is bad luck. Today, Morse went 0 for 4 by striking out swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt, grounding into two 6-4-3 double plays and a chopping a grounder to second. He spent considerable time before the game talking to hitting coach Rick Eckstein about his swing, and after the game he grabbed a bat from his locker and went to the batting cage.

Riggleman made clear that Morse’s slump has not affected his status. After all, Morse is still hitting .349/.375/.744. “He’s going to be our left fielder,” he said. “I’m just assuring that he’s earned his spot on the club.” Morse trails only Ian Desmond among Nationals with 46 plate appearances, which is by design. The Nationals want Morse to adjust the grind of playing every day, something he has never experienced.

“He’s experiencing a lot of baseball right now,” Riggleman said. “He’s a big strong guy. He’s going to play a lot of baseball this spring. I want him to see a lot of pitches. He’s answering the bell there in terms of the innings.”

>>> Judging by the line score, Jordan Zimmermann’s fourth start of the spring was a rough one. He allowed six earned runs in four innings on eight hits and two walks without striking anybody out.

But, somehow, it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Zimmermann a few pitches he left up in the strike zone, including one that Yadier Molina smashed to the warning track for an RBI double. But most of the Cardinals hits were groundballs with eyes. Riggleman counted four hits that touched a glove.

“It was kind of a spring training feel,” Riggleman said.

Before today, Zimmermann had not allowed an earned run in 11 innings. He’s now got a 3.60 ERA, and he wasn’t concerned by the ugly black-and-white results.

“I just fell behind in the counts,” Zimmermann said. “I was behind most of the day. I was pitching in trouble most of the day. The balls weren’t hit that hard, I don’t think. A lot of groundballs today. I had some good pitches and I had some bad pitches. There were couple grounders that snuck through the hole.”

By  |  07:58 PM ET, 03/18/2011

 
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