Eligible to come off the disabled list after three more games, Michael Morse will leave his rehab assignment with Class AA Harrisburg today to travel to New York to receive treatment on his strained lat from a specialist.
The Nationals had planned to give Morse the day off today, anyway, Manager Davey Johnson said, and the Nationals do not consider the treatment a red flag in Morse’s return.
“Morse just felt a little bit throwing,” Johnson said. “But I’m sure he tried to throw too much, and felt a little bit there, but nothing wrong with swinging.”
Rick Ankiel remained in Harrisburg, where he will serve as the designated hitter this afternoon. The Nationals expect both Ankiel, who is eligible to play in the majors April 14, and Morse to return soon.
“They’re getting closer,” Johnson said. “They’re probably a week or so away for probably both of them.”
Their coming returns will force the Nationals to remove two players from their roster. Johnson said he has decided which players the Nationals will send down, but would not reveal it at this point.
The easiest bench player to send down, from a roster construction standpoint, would be infielder Steve Lombardozzi, the only Nationals bench player with an option remaining.
Both Chad Tracy and Xavier Nady seem like locks to stay with the club. Tracy is a left-handed hitter, and after opening day Johnson said, “Tracy ain’t going nowhere.”
Meanwhile, Johnson said today he plans to platoon in the outfield. Against left-handed starting pitchers, Johnson will shift Jayson Werth from right field to center, start Xavier Nady in right and remove Roger Bernadina from the lineup, keeping Mark DeRosa in left field. (That would force Adam LaRoche to play against left-handed starters until Morse returns. Hitting against left and right will help him come along faster than missing at this point,” Johnson said.)
The arrangement puts Bernadina and bench outfielder Brett Carroll at risk. Bernadina has started in center field the Nationals’ first two games, but he is not a lock to remain with the club, even if he has no options remaining.
“Bernie had a great spring,” Johnson said. “He’s still a young player as far as playing in the big leagues, still got tremendous potential. But those guys are knocking on the door. They’re getting closer. They’re probably a week or so away for probably both of them. This is an important time for him, as is anybody in the starting lineup. Those guys, Michael Morse especially, we’re definitely holding a spot open for him.”
As Johnson pointed out, you never know what could happen between now and the time Morse and Ankiel come off the disabled list. But it seems a good bet the players they replace will come out of the trio of Lombardozzi, Carroll and Bernadina.
That is, unless the Nationals make the unconventional decision to use 11 pitchers. That seems unlikely, but then the Nationals have already surprised us once this spring.