After both players struck out, killing the Nationals’ first good chance to score a run in last night’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Michael Morse saw each other in the tunnel on the way back to the video room at Nationals Park.
Morse was hitting .206 at the time, and had struck out 23 times in 73 at-bats this season. Even if he didn’t need some encouragement - and Hairston said Morse didn’t - after a hot spring had turned into an early-season funk, Hairston was going to provide it anyway.
“I told him, ‘Look, 70, 80 at-bats, in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing,’” Hairston said. “I’ve played with great players that have hit .190 in their first 200 at-bats and ended up hitting .300. I remember years ago, one of my good friends Derek Jeter, he had a year where he was hitting a buck 90 through 250 at-bats. He ended up hitting .297. That’s the game. Sometimes you have your good months, sometimes you have your bad months. But you have to keep grinding. He did that. He picked himself up and got a huge hit for us.”
Morse had looked at strike three in the fifth inning. In the seventh, he ripped the first pitch he saw from Madison Bumgarner back up the middle, giving the Nationals their first run, and as it turned out, the only one they’d need.
The go-ahead single in the Nationals 2-0 win over the Giants was a small victory for Morse in a season that hasn’t started with many of them. He was the player everyone wanted to see last year, homering 15 times in 293 plate appearances, and his nine-homer spring won him the starting left field job after the Nationals had initially planned on a platoon there. But Morse has looked at third strikes, managed just two extra-base hits in his first 24 games and lost some playing time to this year’s version of the player everyone wants to see: Laynce Nix.
Hairston wanted to remind him that a one-month scope of the season is far too small.
“He’s not struggling. Struggling is when you have .500 at-bats and you hit a buck-fifty,” Hairston said. “This is the big leagues, man. You’re going to have your ups and downs. That’s why they call it an average. You’re going to have your hot months, you’re going to have your down months. Sometimes you just don’t get hits in this game. But you’ve got to keep grinding and it’ll all even out.”
And after Morse singled in the seventh, Hairston followed him with a double to drive in the Nationals’ second run and raise his own average back to .200. The two players looked at each other and smiled, exchanging a silent note of gratitude on the field.
“We saw each other down in the tunnel and just told each other, ‘Take this at-bat, get rid of it. Get it out of your mind. Our next at-bat, we’re going to do something special,’” Morse said.