Don’t expect Morse to see time at first base

VIERA, Fla. - They just pulled the tarp off the field here at Space Coast Stadium, and the rain appears to be gone for the rest of the day. We’re just left with 56-degree temperatures and a strong wind.

For those of you up north who are rolling your eyes right now, I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.

Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the Nationals today, but the righty shouldn’t have a problem with these conditions. It seems like every time he takes the mound, it’s cool and breezy.

Like Edwin Jackson yesterday, Strasburg will be on a 45-pitch limit today. He could work up to three innings, depending how economical he is with his pitches.

Adam LaRoche isn’t in the lineup today or tomorrow, but manager Davey Johnson said he hopes to get the first baseman some at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals. LaRoche, who is dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries, has been lobbying to hit off some live arms in the cage tomorrow.

“I think he’s feeling pretty good, but we’re just being on the cautious side,” Johnson said.

LaRoche’s presence obviously has caused Michael Morse to move back to back to left field this spring. Despite LaRoche’s injuries and Morse’s experience playing at first base last year (he played 85 games in at first in 2011), Johnson says he hasn’t considered giving Morse a game or two at first this spring.

“I’ve got a bunch of guys lined up over there,” Johnson said. “I’m probably shorter on outfield candidates than I am people that could play first. (Mark) Teahen, (Chad) Tracy, (Tyler) Moore, (Mark) DeRosa, LaRoche. I’ve got a bunch of guys over there.”

Morse put up a career year last year, hitting .303 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs, leading the team in all three categories. Does Johnson expect another year like that from the 29-year-old (who more than doubled his previous career highs in homers and RBIs) or does he hope for it?

“I expect it,” Johnson said. “He expects it. Again, you guys like to look at age or history. I look at what I see. I trust my eyes, and I like what I see. He’s my cleanup hitter. They decide that, too. I didn’t draw that out of a hat. He’s my cleanup hitter. His numbers spoke (for themselves) - .300, I don’t think we had many hit .300 last year. Thirty home runs - did we have any that did that? He also led our club in RBIs and we didn’t have a lot of guys on. I would hope that he could do better than that if we had more guys on and more guys hitting around him. I’m more concerned with the guys hitting around him than I am with him.”

Defensively, Morse will have to get acclimated to playing the outfield full-time again, but Johnson liked what he saw from Morse in left during his time there last season.

“He was fine,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of hard. He worked hard and got comfortable at first. You guys knew at the time (last year) that I was thinking about whoever was going to (play first) next year, it’d be nice if Mo could play in the outfield, with LaRoche being here for sure this year and probably next year when he has a big year this year. That was what the roster dictated.”

Dan Kolko was named’s Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site’s deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the “George Michael Sports Machine” in Washington, D.C.

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