Since the start of the 2012 season, the Nationals’ lineup has been depleted and plagued by injury after injury. Eleven players currently sit on the DL, including stars Jayson Werth, Drew Storen, Wilson Ramos, and very importantly, outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse. After a prolonged absence, Morse is nearly ready to return to the lineup and spark some offense into this first-place team.
Morse finished the 2011 campaign on an extremely high note, batting a whopping .303/.360/.550 and leading the team with 31 home runs. A seemingly minor injury to his right lat muscle in Spring Training has kept Morse in the dugout for two months, and what the team continues to miss is the hitting that Morse could provide. The Nats currently average a mere 3.86 runs per game despite their 29-20 record through Tuesday, and the return of Morse’s bat could be just what the doctor ordered heading into three weeks of interleague play followed by tough NL match-ups in July and August.
As many analysts have noted, the right lat injury has thankfully not affected Morse’s ability to swing, only to throw. Morse made his first rehab appearance Tuesday at Class A Potomac, going 0-1 with a walk and a strikeout before the game was called due to rain. A return date to the Nats is scheduled for June 8 in Boston, at the very latest.
In the games coming up at AL East parks (Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore), manager Davey Johnson will have the ability to stick Morse in the lineup as a DH without having to remove Steve Lombardozzi from left field. While Morse is naturally a clean-up hitter, Adam LaRoche has been doing so well batting 4th that I think Morse will end up hitting 5th and the streaking Ian Desmond will move to the 6 hole. That just leaves one question: Who’s going to play 2nd base?
When Morse returns to left field following interleague play, Davey will have to make a decision about leadoff man Lombardozzi. He has said recently that he loves Lombo in the lineup due to his continued production as a hitter, but also trusts that the struggling Danny Espinosa will soon turn things around at the plate. Once Morse returns, I think whichever 2nd baseman Davey decides to use should remain the Nats’ leadoff man, as both have proven that they can fill that role at times this season.
Despite potential lineup changes coming soon, Morse will almost certainly make an immediate impact at the plate for the Nationals upon his return. This DC squad is on their way to making a run at their first ever NL East title, and with Morse in the order those chances will only get better.