Whatever has transformed Michael Morse into one of the game’s most dangerous power hitters this season is largely unidentified; Morse has rebuffed most hypotheses about what’s different in his plate approach, and after his second multi-homer game of the year on Monday in a 7-1 win over the Dodgers, he slipped out of Nationals Park before talking to reporters.
But maybe the assumption that there is, or has to be, something different about Morse is wrong. Maybe this was the kind of player he was bound to become all along, if he only got the chance to prove it. The players in the Nationals’ clubhouse seem to be leaning more and more toward that theory.
Morse’s two homers in the Nationals’ victory on Monday were his 25th and 26th of the season. Since May 2, he’s hitting .334 with 25 homers and 73 RBI. He’s homered 41 times in 711 at-bats in the last two years, and his .562 slugging percentage is the third-best in the National League, just ahead of Albert Pujols.
Whatever got Morse here, it’s becoming clearer that he’s not going anywhere.
“When I signed here, he was one of the guys I really liked,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “I thought he had a chance to be a really good player. He’s really done a good job this year, and turned himself into a force to be reckoned with. Going forward, he’s going to be a pillar in this organization.”
His emergence as a legitimate power hitter has all but silenced those who thought the Nationals made a mistake in letting Adam Dunn leave in free agency (though Dunn’s numbers in Chicago have helped put that fire out, too). But going forward, a Nationals lineup with Ryan Zimmerman, Morse, Werth and Bryce Harper has the chance to be pretty scary - especially if they get their issues fixed at the top of the lineup.
Monday’s game brought more evidence that they have. Ian Desmond went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, starting the game with his second leadoff homer in three days. Desmond is hitting .304 in 18 games in the leadoff spot, and has homered three times. On Monday, “all I know is I hit the farthest home run of everybody today,” Desmond said.
“For whatever reason, when I got here, he was trying to serve the ball to right field,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He’d let the ball get deep, and kind of flare these little hits into right. He’d occasionally get some hits. But I remember him hitting the ball where it’s pitched - if the ball’s inside, you get it out front, and if the ball’s away, you go the other way and drop that hit in there. He’s been doing that more.”
But the engine that’s driven the Nationals’ offense most of this season - and the story again on Monday - is Morse. He has gone back to left field, where he struggled early this year, and continued hitting home runs. It’s likely he’ll be there for the foreseeable future, in the middle of a Nationals lineup that could be constructed around him.
“He knows his approach. He knows how they’re trying to pitch him,” Johnson said. “He’s got tremendous power the other way, and obviously, they’re going to try to pound him in. He’s learning more about the strike zone inside, and you see him not even offering at pitches inside. That’s when you know a hitter’s got a good command of the strike zone, and he also knows what they’re trying to do.”
Said catcher Ivan Rodriguez: “He’s amazing. What he’s doing right now - hitting over .300, 20-some home runs and the RBIs that he has - it’s good. I’m very happy for him, with everything he went through when he came to the pros. To have the year that he’s having, it’s pretty awesome.”