For Michael Morse, left field for the Nationals is the chance he'd been waiting for

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2011; 1:21 AM

VIERA, FLA. - By the spring of 2009, as he packed for another trip to the minor leagues, Michael Morse had been in baseball long enough that he knew what could happen next. "Some guys," he said, "they get lost." He told himself that would not be him. The Seattle Mariners had designated Morse to the minors, but someday, he dreamed, he was going to get back to the major leagues, and he was going to play every day.

Morse played well enough only for some other team to take notice. The Washington Nationals traded for him and kept him in the minors. Morse hit his way back to the majors by the end of the season. The next year, 2010, he hit his way into the lineup. He kept hitting and hitting until, by this spring, he left them no choice.

On Saturday morning - before Morse went 2 for 3 against the New York Yankees with his fifth home run of the spring - Manager Jim Riggleman and General Manager Mike Rizzo indicated they plan for Morse, at least for now, to play left field for the Nationals. Not sometimes. Not as part of a platoon. Every day.

Since Morse came to the Nationals in June 2009, he has seized the opportunity for which he yearned. After the Chicago White Sox picked him as a shortstop in the third round of the 2000 draft, Morse had difficulty staying healthy, sticking with one team or finding a position.

In 2008, after a strong spring with the Mariners, he had earned a share of their right field spot - and then separated his shoulder diving for a ball during the first week of the season. Morse never regained his footing after the Mariners switched management regimes, and before the 2009 season, they designated him.

"I remember always seeing guys when they designated to AAA just fall off the face of the Earth," Morse said. "I made it a goal for myself. I said, 'I can't do that, man. I can't be like that.' I told myself I would do whatever it takes not to fail."

First, though, Morse had to come to Washington.

On June 28, 2009, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik called Rizzo about a trade. He wanted a strong defensive outfielder and asked about Ryan Langerhans, a speedster with major league experience in Class AAA.

The Nationals viewed Langerhans as inventory and were willing to part with him. The Nationals kept a list of Mariners prospects they would be interested in acquiring, as they did for every team. The name at the top of the list was Morse.

It had landed there after a combination of statistical analysis and scouting. The Nationals' stats showed Morse took a lot of pitches and had numbers that suggested the potential for power. Scouts saw in Morse, then mostly an infielder, the athleticism to play other positions, and they determined that playing a less demanding position would help him become a more productive hitter.

At first, Zduriencik was reluctant to add Morse. The Nationals were adamant: Morse for Langerhans, or no deal. Zduriencik decided he would give up Morse. "It didn't take long," Rizzo said.

When they completed the deal, Morse was called into his manager's office at Class AAA Tacoma. He was hitting .312 with 10 home runs in 66 games, and he had heard earlier in the day that Adrian Beltre, the Mariners' third baseman, had been injured. He walked in confident the Mariners had summoned to the majors. When Morse heard he'd been traded, he thought it was a joke and asked where the Mariners were playing that night.

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