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Morse Is a Man Playing Without a Position

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009

Jim Riggleman likes Mike Morse. The manager calls his utility player a "professional hitter," which is how Riggleman describes almost anybody whose bat he wants in the lineup.

But Riggleman also has a dilemma. He doesn't quite see a natural fit for Morse on the field. His best positions -- first base and third base -- are also those where the Washington Nationals require little help. The position where Washington could use a boost -- second base -- is one Morse has played before. But Riggleman still doesn't feel comfortable enough to try a long-limbed, 6-foot-5 guy there.

"He's just gotten to be such a big guy that it's hard to profile him as a middle infielder," Riggleman said. "What we see is a guy who can hit, but with [Ryan] Zimmerman and [Adam] Dunn here, this is the place that Mike has fallen into in the past."

In his five-year big league career, Morse has played first, third, shortstop, left field and right field. Earlier this year, while with Class AAA Tacoma, he also played about 20 games at second. Referencing his height, Morse acknowledged that "people don't look at me as a second baseman, same as shortstop. But if I play, I'm going to play as hard as I can. There's no pressure this far in my baseball career [about switching positions]. If they tell me to catch, I'll put the gear on."

On Sunday, Morse found himself in the lineup, starting at first base, allowing a day off for Dunn. But this was just the third start for Morse since his August 17 promotion from Class AAA Syracuse. Acquired in a June 28 trade with Seattle, Morse is hitting .250 after his 1-for-5 performance Sunday, which included a fourth-inning homer, his second of the weekend.

Next year in spring training, there's a chance the Nationals give Morse a chance to sharpen his skills at second base. He's even worked out there a few times in the last week, strictly in pregame drills. But for now, Riggleman is reluctant to play Morse there in a game -- especially against a contending team like Atlanta.

"Also," Riggleman said, "You do owe it to your pitcher to try to put as best a ballclub out there that you can."

Nieves Hopes to Return

Catcher Wil Nieves pulled his left hamstring on Sept. 17. Originally he thought he'd be able to return to the lineup five days later. When that didn't happen, he hoped to return to the lineup this weekend. That didn't happen either, but Nieves feels his return isn't far away. Nieves, who test his hamstring with some sprints in the outfield on Sunday, now hopes to return to the lineup on Monday.

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