Morse has been telling teammates he wants to return soon – even suggesting he had hoped to join the team in Miami for the series that begins today. That won’t happen, but Johnson is pushing for Morse to come back as early as Thursday, when the Nationals begin a homestand at Nationals Park.
At the latest, Morse will return June 8 in Boston, where he can serve as the designated hitter. Morse has missed the first two months of the year with a strained lat muscle, an injury that has made it impossible for him to throw but did affect his ability to swing.
“The last time I talked to [head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz], he said I might let him play the field the 6th,” Johnson said. “I might let him play the field a lot earlier than that. So we haven’t discussed that. Again, we’ll be cautious on it and it’ll come from the guys that are watching him down there and the conversations with Michael Morse on how he’s feeling down there.”
Johnson will have a small dilemma when Morse returns: Where to bat him in the lineup?
Morse, who hit 31 homers last year, entered the year as the obvious choice at cleanup. But Bryce Harper has settled into the second spot and Adam LaRoche has been the Nationals best hitter at the fourth spot. In order to keep a right-left-right mix to the lineup, Johnson would likely hit Morse fifth.
But then that raises the question of where to hit shortstop Ian Desmond, who has thrived in the fifth spot. He would probably just move down to sixth as opposed to returning to the leadoff spot, where Steve Lombardozzi has taken hold over the past week. “I like him, what’s he’s been doing in the leadoff spot,” Johnson said.
The Nationals’ offense slumped in April, but it has surged recently. They have scored 111 runs in May, 14th in the majors, and have a .459 slugging percentage in May, third in the majors. They’ve scored at least five runs in six of their last eight games. And, possibly as soon as this week, the Nationals could be adding their best slugger.
“I’ll hit him anywhere if I have him,” Johnson said. “I’d like to have that problem with Michael Morse coming back.”