When Michael Morse first was scratched from the Nationals' lineup just prior to a spring training game on March 6, the team diagnosed the injury as a strained lat, something which both the Nats and Morse thought would only keep the slugger out for a day or two.
If someone had told Morse then that he would be out nearly three months because of the injury, "I would've laughed in their face," Morse said today.
Yet, here we are on June 1, and only now is the 6-foot-5, 245-lb. outfielder getting a chance to dust off his specialty cleats which have the word "Opening" imprinted on the heel of the left cleat and "Day" on the right.
The next time the Nats end up taking the field, Morse will be running out to right, ready to make his 2012 major league debut.
"I'm back," Morse said. "I'm back now, and it's better late to the party than never."
Turns out, at its worst, Morse's injury wasn't just a strained lat. Somewhere along the road - Morse isn't sure exactly where - the injury worsened, and he ended up tearing the teres major tendon (located between the lat and the shoulder) completely off the bone.
It's an incredibly uncommon injury for baseball players, and even more uncommon for position players. Among ballplayers, the vast majority of these types of injuries happen to pitchers, which is why Morse felt discomfort when throwing, but never had any issues while swinging a bat.
Morse's road back took a number of bumps, with multiple setbacks, shutdowns and periods of frustration. Making all of it worse was that Morse never thought he'd miss that much time.
"When it first happened, I thought, 'No big deal. One or two days, spring training kind of thing,' " Morse said. "But to take a couple months out of the season, it hurt. It was a shock at first. The injury itself is just so rare. It's a rare thing in baseball. I just dug down. I said, 'I did this before in my career. I've done it too many times, and this is not something I can't come back from.' "
The good news is that Morse feels like he might be better off defensively now than he has been at any previous point in his career. The injury gave him time to rework his throwing motion and mechanics down at the Nationals' complex in Viera, Fla., allowing Morse (who came up as a shortstop) to throw more like an outfielder.
Nationals instructor Gary Cathcart helped Morse work on throwing straight over the top instead of coming at an angle, which Morse feels will improve the strength and accuracy of his throws. He expects that throwing over the top will give his throws less of a tail on the ball coming in to the infield.
As for his overall health, Morse insists he feels great, saying, "If I wasn't 100 percent, I wouldn't be here."
He doesn't anticipate the Nats easing him into action at all, ("No, throw me in. Throw me in," he says,) and while he's had minimal at-bats throughout this entire process, he still expects to deliver at a normal Michael Morse level.
"Absolutely. That's what going to rehab's for, to get back into your regular shape," Morse said. "I'm not here to try to get back into baseball form. That's what I was doing (on my rehab assignment) at Potomac. There's no excuses."