Morse could return earlier than expected

The Nationals had been targeting June 8 for Michael Morse's return to the lineup.

That will be the start of road interleague games for the team, which would allow Morse to slide in as the Nats' designated hitter and give his strained lat - which had been bothering him when he threw - more time to recover before he needed to return to the outfield.

But manager Davey Johnson indicated today that Morse could be ready to return earlier than originally expected, possibly as soon as June 1, when the Nats start their next homestand.

"I don't see anything holding him back other than the doctors being on the safe side and giving him the green light to go," Johnson said.

Morse threw yesterday and told Johnson he's been sneaking swings in without the trainers' knowledge and that he feels good. The plan is for Morse to head down to Viera, Fla., when the Nats leave for this upcoming road trip on Monday, allowing him to get a bunch of at-bats at extended spring training.

At least in Morse's eyes, if all goes well in Viera, the originally planned June 8 return date could be adjusted.

"We'd been set for that for about three weeks, and he came to me and said, 'When you come off the road trip, I'll be ready,' " Johnson said. "But he's feeling his oats.

"He looks strong. I've been in the workout room when he's working out, and he's doing things that you can't do when you're hurt. He's lifting things and doing things. ... As big and strong as he is, the doctors tell him he can go, and they're expanding and letting him do pretty much everything right now, so I don't think it's going to take much time."

Michael_Morse_batting-sidebar.jpgJohnson said Morse will likely undergo a MRI this weekend to check on the status of the lat before he goes down to Florida. Trainers told Johnson about a week ago that Morse's lat was about 80 percent healed, and it should be back to 100 percent in a week's time.

The concern here is that Morse has felt like he was nearing a return from the injury twice prior, (towards the end of spring and then four games into a rehab assignment,) only to suffer setbacks that have held him out of regular season action to this point.

Morse is constantly pushing the envelope, trying to return to action as soon as possible, so the Nationals will need to guard against that and protect their left fielder from returning too soon. With that in mind, Johnson said he had a talk with Morse and told him how to attack his rehab.

"It's not how hard you throw, it's building up that endurance, throwing 20, 30 minutes," Johnson said. "Just building up that base. I said, 'You can't shuck that responsibility because I know dang well if you come back and you're playing a ballgame, you ain't gonna be able to lob it to the shortstop. We're going to cut loose, so let's make sure you safeguard against any setbacks in that regard.' "

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