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Morse ready at last for his Opening Day

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Morse ready at last for his Opening Day

Michael Morse reached into his locker and pulled out a custom set of spikes, with words stitched into each heel. On the left, it read "Opening." On the right, it read "Day."

He planned to wear them Friday night (before the game was rained out) when he finally took the field at Nationals Park for the first time this season.

"June 1," he said. "Who would've thunk it?"

Certainly not Morse, and certainly not the Nationals, back on March 6 when some minor discomfort in his upper right back forced him to be scratched from a spring training game at Walt Disney World.

Upon feeling that discomfort while playing catch in the outfield that afternoon, Morse wasn't even sure he should bother mentioning it to anyone.

"I was just like, my arm hurts a little bit," he said.

Morse did finally decide to tell manager Davey Johnson, who wasn't overly concerned but didn't want to take any chances that early in the spring. Little did anyone realize at the time the severity of the injury: a torn lat muscle.

What would Morse have said if someone told him that day he'd miss three months?

"I would've laughed in their face," he said.

In fact, Morse claims he never would have said a word to anyone at the time had he been fighting for a roster spot and not been assured of starting on Opening Day.

"Oh, definitely not," he said. "But imagine where that would've got me."

Morse can laugh about it all now, because he's at long last, he's healthy and able to play. The road back, though, featured plenty of bumps.

First came an attempt to bat in spring training games, two of them in mid-March. Then he was shut down again and told to rest for at least two weeks, during which time he received a platelet-rich plasma injection to try to speed up the healing process.

Though he wasn't ready to return for Opening Day in Chicago, Morse still was on track to come off the disabled list in time for the Nationals' April 12 home opener. He played in three rehab games for Class AA Harrisburg, then was set to play one more for low-Class A Hagerstown, needing only to make it through nine innings in the field to be cleared for action.

During that final game, though, Morse felt a recurrence of pain in the affected area when he tried to make throws from the outfield. So he was shut down again, this time for six weeks.

Only this week -- after completing a rehab program at extended spring training in Viera, Fla., and then playing in three games at high-Class A Potomac -- was Morse truly able to return to full health.

There was some thought to restricting him to pinch-hitting duties, or preventing him from making significant throws from the outfield, but both Morse and Johnson insisted he's cleared for full particpation.

"I'm 100 percent," Morse said. "If I wasn't 100 percent, I wouldn't be here."

And will he cut loose from right field to make a throw?

"If I have to, I have to," he said. "I mean, not like Rick Ankiel, but ..."

Whether Morse is able to pick right up where he left off at the end of last season -- he led the Nationals with a .303 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI -- remains to be seen. But his return to the lineup remains a welcome treat for his manager, who figures opposing teams won't enjoy having to face the massive right-handed hitter.

"It's real nice," Johnson said. "I've been waiting on it for some time. ... He was our best hitter last year. You've got to give him some respect."

Morse was scheduled to hit cleanup and start in right field Friday night against Braves left-hander Mike Minor. He'll remain in right field for the foreseeable future, at least until Jayson Werth returns from a broken wrist. His spot in the lineup, though, might change, with Johnson likely to hit Morse fifth (behind Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche) against right-handed starters.

Despite the absence of their potent, middle-of-the-order slugger -- not to mention the absence of countless other key players currently on the DL -- the Nationals entered Friday in first place in the NL East, holding a slim, 12-game lead over the Mets and Marlins.

Morse expected nothing less from his teammates.

"I wasn't surprised, especially with the team that we have," he said. "I definitely wasn't surprised. I still think there's so much more potential than we've got. I don't think we've hit our stride yet. And when we do, it's going to be a lot of fun."

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Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

The Nationals offered no new information on Bryce Harper's sore left thumb or Daniel Murphy's sore left buttock on Monday. The results of Harper's X-ray are not back and Murphy's still shut down and out of the lineup for the seventh straight game.

They did, however, get lefty reliever Sammy Solis back from the disabled list. That was a nice boost for a team that is missing two of its best position players and one of its best pitchers in Stephen Strasburg.

Solis was their most effective lefty reliever when he landed on the DL on Aug. 16 with left shoulder inflammation. He threw two simulated games in Viera, Fla., including one on Sunday when he tossed 25 pitches.

Simulated games, though, only replicate so much. His goal now is simple: get as much work as he can in the last seven games to get up to speed before the playoffs.

"[A simulated game] is not quite a game. I think we all know that. I'm still feeling good and ready to go," Solis said. "Hopefully I'll get some game experience and get back on track for the postseason."

Since Solis threw on Sunday, he's unlikely to pitch in the team's opener against the Diamondbacks on Monday. That leaves six games and then the four days off before the NLDS begins on Friday, Oct. 7 to get work in.

That's not a long time, but the Nats will take what they can get from the left-hander, who has enjoyed a breakout season with a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances.

"Hopefully we have a situation where we can get him into the game tomorrow," manager Dusty Baker said. "It doesn’t leave a bunch of time for us to get him sharp. But they told me that he’s feeling good and he threw the ball well.”

For Harper, the Nationals continue to wait. Usually X-rays do not take as long as MRIs to get the results back. So, it would be surprising if there was no update on Tuesday.

Like Solis, Murphy getting his rhythm back will also be important. He has just two at-bats since he hurt himself sliding on Sept. 17.

“How many at-bats he needs, that’s a toss-up between at-bats and him getting extra days to get healthy and get well," Baker said. "Which ones are more important: His legs to get healthy, or his at-bats, and are we risking that leg by pushing him too early? Murph knows himself. Murph has a strong mind. I’m just glad that we shut Murph down when we did, and we had the luxury of shutting him down when we did. Because if he had played any longer, he’d have been out for probably the entire postseason.”

Baker went on to say that he does expect Murphy to be able to play in the postseason. As for Stephen Strasburg, he said he still doesn't know.

NOTES:

-- The Nationals made a minor trade with the Pirates on Monday. They sent infielder Chris Bostick to Pittsburgh for catcher Taylor Gushue and cash considerations. Gushue was a fourth round pick in 2014 out of the University of Florida. He has a .231 average and .659 OPS in 243 minor league games.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats (91-64) vs. Diamondbacks (64-91) at Nationals Park

The Nationals already have the NL East division locked up and know they will be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series next week. But first, they have seven more regular season games, all at home. They begin that final homestand on Monday night with the Arizona Diamondbacks in town.

That means Matt Williams will make his return to Nationals Park for the first time since he was fired last October. He is now the third base coach of the D'Backs, who can technically help their division rivals, the Dodgers, by beating the Nats. L.A. and Washington are jockeying for home field advantage in that first round.

Bryce Harper (thumb) and Daniel Murphy remain out of the Nats' lineup. The Nats are still not ready to reveal the results of Harper's X-ray.

Tanner Roark (15-9, 2.70) will make his 32nd start of the season. He saw the D'Backs on Aug. 2 in Arizona and tossed 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball.

Opposite Roark will be former first round pick Archie Bradley (7-9, 5.02). Bradley pitched on Aug. 1 the first series between these teams and allowed eight runs - seven earned - in 3 1/3 innings.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Diamondbacks - Archie Bradley

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
2B Stephen Drew
1B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Brian Goodwin
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

DIAMONDBACKS

TBA
RHP Archie Bradley

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