Dave Nichols: Morse’s return, daunting June on tap for Nationals

The Nationals find themselves in an enviable position. Clinging to the National League East lead by a half-game over the Miami Marlins on the last day of May, they expect to get cleanup hitter Michael Morse back as early as Friday when they start a three-game weekend series with the Atlanta Braves.

Morse, who is with the high Single-A Potomac Nationals this week on a rehab assignment, went 3-for-6 with a walk and an RBI over two games so far as a designated hitter. He’s scheduled to play five innings in right field Thursday night. If all goes well, his next stop might be Nationals Park.

So what’s the dilemma? Well, manager Davey Johnson mentioned the other day that when Morse returns, he’ll play right field, with Bryce Harper manning center and rookie Steve Lombardozzi - hitting .313 with a .376 OBP - staying in left field. Johnson is admittedly sacrificing defense for offense in that scenario, but he has Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and Corey Brown as his disposal as defensive replacements.

The month of June is going to be a challenge for the Nats. After a six-game homestand against the Braves and New York Mets, they hit the teeth of their interleague schedule: six games against the Red Sox and Blue Jays on the road, then six against the Yankees and Rays at Nats Park. When that concludes, the Nationals head out on a brutal 10-day, 10-game road trip through Baltimore, Colorado and Atlanta.

Daunting enough for ya?

No one is crying about the Nats’ schedule. It’s a product of the infernal interleague play and the unbalanced schedule. The Nats already play in the toughest division in the NL, where every team is above .500. But they have to face the toughest division in the American Legaue as well this year, while some other teams the Nats might face for a wild card spot get to play the Twins, Royals and such.

But the Nats get Morse back very soon. Maybe Brad Lidge and Drew Storen in the not too distant future, as well. Suddenly, one of the biggest surprises in baseball gets some much needed reinforcements without having to give up any future assets. Then maybe, just maybe, around the trade deadline they get their veteran clubhouse leader - more like ringmaster - Jayson Werth back from his broken wrist. Then, if a spare part becomes available for cheap on the trade market, general manager Mike Rizzo can deal from a position of strength instead of out of need or desperation.

This summer could be a lot of fun.

Dave Nichols covers the Nationals for District Sports Page. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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