To add to the irony, Morse has consciously modeled his career on Werth ever since a Seattle teammate in ’07, Raul Ibanez, who went from nobody-to-star at age 30, told Morse: “You remind me of Werth. We’re all late-bloomers.”
Morse was so psyched he switched to No. 28 like Werth in Philly. This spring, when Werth arrived in D.C., Morse gladly relinquished the number to his shaggy new buddy, who has also become his weightlifting mentor.
“Morse has proven what he can do over a long-enough period that he is now a fixture for us as a corner player,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday. “Michael has improved here in all facets: defense, base running, even throwing. He’s an extremely hard worker. The knock on him was that he had a hole in his swing, fastballs upper-middle-in. But he’s worked with [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein so he can hit it or not swing at it.
“Supposedly, he couldn’t hit top starters or the back of the bullpen. Well, those guys get everybody out. This year, Morse has hit everybody.”
Coming off a blazing 7-for-12 series in Houston that included two homers, one a monstrous above-the-train-tracks blast, Morse may be at a peak. So, hold the Fielder-Cabrera comparisons. But the proper career analogy may be closer to home. Maybe Ibanez really is a prophet.
In 2009-10 in Philly, Werth averaged 664 plate appearances with 32 homers, 36 doubles, 92 RBI, a .282 batting average, .380 on-base percentage and .519 slugging percentage. As a Nat, in 672 plate appearances, Morse has 35 homers, 35 doubles, 103 RBI and a slash line of .297/.351/.532. Can you say stat clone?
Morse is under Nats’ control through 2013, so a contract extension now, before he ever puts up one successful full season, would be unconventional. But it may cost the Nats plenty if they wait. Ibanez caught fire later than Morse and strung together eight years that earned $48 million.
“He’s part of our plan,” said Rizzo, knowing Morse could slide to left field next year, where he’s adequate, when Gold Glove-quality first baseman Adam LaRoche returns from shoulder surgery. “But the ‘futures market’ is dangerous.”
So, don’t expect a lock-him-up-quick deal. The pressure of expectation has bothered Morse in the past. After leading MLB in homers in spring training, he won a starting job for the first time in April. He slumped so badly, he was back in a platoon by May. But LaRoche’s injury opened a spot at first base and, with no competition in sight and four months open in front of him, Morse exploded, hitting as well as anybody except Jose Bautista.