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Morse finds stroke in opposite field

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Morse finds stroke in opposite field

Not that anyone was really worried Michael Morse's 0-for-the-season would continue forever, but as the outs started piling up there was at least some question about when hit No. 1 would finally come.

Then Morse erased those doubts in fairly emphatic fashion, lacing a double to right-center in the bottom of the fourth Tuesday night, snapping an 0-for-9 slump to begin his injury-shortened 2012.

Morse admitted he needed to get that first hit out of the way to clear one last mental hurdle associated with the torn lat muscle that sidelined him three months.

"Oh yeah," he said. "The first one, you kind of hit the barrel and you know when that hand-eye coordination comes in. It felt good. And like I said, it kind of clicked."

It certainly looked like things were clicking for Morse eight innings later, when he again drilled a double to right-center, this time striking the wall on the fly, to jump-start the Nationals' game-winning rally.

That display of power to right-center, something Morse put on display throughout his breakthrough 2011 season, was perhaps the surest sign to date he has fully recovered from his injury and is starting to find his groove at the plate after a slow start.

The key, Morse explained, was his ability to let the ball travel deeper into the strike zone and not be overanxious.

"The last couple days, I've been kind of connecting way out in front," he said Tuesday night. "So I've been trying to see the ball deep today. I tried to really focus on right-center. That's my power. That's where I usually hit. So after I hit that first one there, it really felt normal. It felt right."

Manager Davey Johnson noticed the same adjustment from Morse, allowing him to take advantage of his power to the opposite field.

"When you're out a long time like he was, the tendency -- with any hitter, but especially with Michael Morse -- is he's going to be out in front more than he's going to be behind, which is what he was the first couple games," Johnson said. "He hates to get jammed like any hitter, and he was trying to do something with it. So he was a little early. But he stayed with the ball better last night."

Morse figures to remain entrenched in the heart of the Nationals' lineup moving forward, though it appears he'll get at least some defensive break over the weekend when the club heads to Boston.

Needing a designated hitter in American League parks, Johnson said he's likely to tab Morse.

"I had a little discussion with some of my coaches, and I think it would be a good time to DH him, regroup and let him do some throwing," Johnson said. "But he's throwing fine. He's perfectly healthy. He hasn't had any complaints since coming back. And I like the way he's starting to swing the bat, too. But it will give us an opportunity to play some other guys."

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.