Following a nine-game road trip which seemed - to me, at least - to last a lot longer than a week and a half, the Nationals are finally back in the nation’s capital and in the comfort of their own clubhouse.
The road trip might have ended, but the tough stretch of division opponents has not. The Nats will host the Braves for three games this weekend, then will welcome the Mets to town for a three-game set before heading up to Boston to kick off the next round of interleague play.
We still don’t know whether manager Davey Johnson will have Michael Morse at his disposal tonight or whether the veteran outfielder will continue his rehab assignment out with Single-A Potomac.
Morse has gone 3-for-9 during his three-game stint with the P-Nats, but as I wrote last night, he passed his biggest test in the field yesterday, when he played five innings in right without feeling any discomfort in the lat muscle which bothered him earlier in the season and caused him to be shut down for much of the first two months.
If I had to guess one way or the other, I’d predict Morse rejoins the Nats tonight, just because Johnson is so eager to get some more pop back in his lineup. But there’s also the issue of Morse’s timing and comfort level at the plate.
While he has been “tracking” pitches in the batting cage for weeks and got some at-bats down at extended spring training prior to starting his rehab assignment, Morse still has very few ABs under his belt and might benefit from another game or two at the minor league level before he starts facing big league pitching.
Assuming catcher Jesus Flores’ hamstring has recovered fully by this point, the Nats would likely demote either Carlos Maldonado or Jhonatan Solano to make room for Morse on the 25-man roster. No need to keep three catchers if the team feels Flores is healthy.
If he does return tonight, Morse will face Braves lefty Mike Minor, who he has hit well in limited chances thus far. Morse is 3-for-6 with two doubles and two walks off Minor in his career.
Minor has really struggled this season, especially of late. He’s failed to allow fewer than four earned runs in any of his last six starts, and has a 9.95 ERA in that span.
Strasburg, however, is coming off three straight starts where he’s gone five innings or fewer. He allowed four runs over five innings against the Braves his last time out, walking a season-high four batters.
The one Braves hitter to watch tonight is Dan Uggla, who somehow has managed to dominate Strasburg in the past.
Uggla is batting .750 (6-for-8) off the Nats ace, with a double, two walks and two home runs.