Michael Morse's opening day status is unclear

JUPITER, Fla. - Michael Morse's chances of being in the Nationals' lineup on opening day are apparently decreasing.

Manager Davey Johnson said that a definite timetable has not yet been set for Morse to return to action, as he's still having problems with a strained lat muscle, but that it would probably be "a couple weeks" before Morse will begin baseball activities.

Morse feels OK, but the Nationals are playing things safe with their projected starting left fielder and cleanup hitter, and are trying to make sure he doesn't do anything that would set him back in his rehab.

"Just to be clear, it's really unclear," Johnson said.

Johnson said he thinks that Morse received Platelet Rich Plasma therapy on his lat, which is a relatively new procedure in which a player's own blood is put through a centrifuge and then injected into the affected area. The process, which has been performed on a number of athletes recently (including Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods) is thought to accelerate healing and tissue growth.

It's also the same procedure that Orioles pitcher Zach Britton recently had on his throwing shoulder, and is something which Johnson called "aggressive treatment" to help Morse's lat heal.

Morse first started having problems with the lat on March 6, when he was scratched from a start against the Braves. The 30-year-old played two games as the Nats' DH on March 12 and 13, but was subsequently shut down after he still felt discomfort while throwing.

If there is a positive in all this, it's that Morse says that he doesn't currently feel any pain. But Johnson said Morse won't return to games until he gets the green light from the trainers and proves that he can throw without any issues.

If Morse needs to miss any regular season games, it might create an opportunity for another outfielder (such Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Brett Carroll or Jason Michaels) to cement a roster position, and would open up a hole in the cleanup spot.

Johnson will also start to use Steve Lombardozzi and Mark DeRosa in the outfield, as well.

Johnson said his candidates for the No. 4 hole in the lineup would be the same as the ones he's used this spring - Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and DeRosa.

"Draw your own conclusions," Johnson said. "I really like Werth's approach this year. I like where he's at. I think he's priming for a big year. But it's early. Last time I checked, we've got about 14 games left."

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