When Michael Morse stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the first inning today, he was focused on his approach in what would be his first at-bat of the 2012 season.
The Nats were threatening, with two runners on base, and Morse was facing Braves starter Brandon Beachy, who came into today with a 1.77 ERA this season. This was not the time for Morse to let his mind drift elsewhere or start reflecting on the long road he took to battle through a lat injury and rejoin the Nationals.
But then, the sellout crowd of 41,042 rose to its collective feet, cheering the guy who had carried the Nationals’ offense for much of last season and who was finally back in a major league lineup after missing three months due to injury.
Morse couldn’t help himself. He had to soak in the moment for just a brief second.
“I was going up there just thinking at the at-bat, and the next thing you know, it just hit me,” Morse said. “I took one peek up, and it just gave me the goosebumps. It was pretty awesome. It was probably one of the coolest things.
“It was a great little moment there that I had, and I appreciate the fans for all their support.”
Morse went 0-for-4 in his season debut, grounding out to short all four times he stepped to the plate. The results weren’t exactly what the power-hitting outfielder wanted, but he says he was happy with his approach at the plate, which is perhaps the more important thing.
“I felt good,” Morse said. “Every at-bat, I felt more comfortable. First at-bat, kind of felt a little jumpy, so I tried to slow it down next at-bat. By my last at-bat, it felt like where I should be.”
Manager Davey Johnson gave Morse a bit of a breather in the ninth inning, shuffling his outfield alignment by putting Rick Ankiel in center and moving Bryce Harper to right, which allowed Morse to sit.
It’s not a strategy Johnson says he’ll employ every game, but with Morse coming back off a long layoff, the Nats’ skipper wanted to make sure his right fielder didn’t get pushed too hard.
“He looked good,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Don’t get the idea that I’m going to be (replacing you for defensive purposes every night).’ But it worked out just perfect. He’ll be fresh for tomorrow.”
It wasn’t a perfect debut for Morse, considering his offensive stat line. But overall, it was a success. He made it through today’s game healthy, is back in the flow and watched the Nats get back in the win column after finishing their road trip on a three-game losing streak.
“I was expecting 4-for-4, four home runs, a couple grand slams,” Morse laughed. “But, we won, so I’ll ground out four times tomorrow if we win.”