Michael Morse continues to say all the right things about his role as a bench player, even as his play continues to say he should be something more than that. Morse went 1-for-3 on Monday night in a rare start, blasting a homer that came a few rows from pelting passers-by on the left-field concourse.
Since coming off the disabled list on May 16, Morse is hitting .429 with a 1.214 OPS, though he's started just eight times. Manager Jim Riggleman likes Morse as an option off the bench, and while Morse would undoubtedly like a bigger role, he's accepted the one he's got.
"It's a mental grind. You've got to stay mentally ready, mentally prepared," Morse said. "Every game, if I played or if I didn't, I want to get so mentally tired from being in the game the whole time, I feel like I played. So when I do get my starts in there, I recognize pitches, and I feel like I'm an everyday player."
The question is: Should he be?
The Nationals have committed to giving Roger Bernadina a long look in right field, and Bernadina has played well enough to hold the spot (a .286 average, four homers and a .348 on-base percentage). But when the Nationals have a shortage of big-time run producers, Morse might be the easiest way to add one to the lineup.
One option would be to move Bernadina to center field, at least against left-handed pitchers and play Morse in right on those days. The problem is, neither Bernadina nor Nyjer Morgan hits lefties well, and that alignment leaves the Nationals with a weaker defensive outfield than Morgan in center and Bernadina in right.
As backups tend to be, Morse is a fairly popular guy right now, and manager Jim Riggleman realizes it. Short of a more obvious way to get him in the lineup, though, it seems Morse will have to continue producing in little snippets of playing time.
"He takes advantage of his opportunities," Riggleman said. "I haven't been able to get him in there as much as I know a lot of people want him in there. But I like Bernadina in there, too, and (Josh) Willingham, and Adam Dunn, and (Ryan) Zimmerman - the positions that he plays. It's been limited, but he always has taken advantage of it. He's a great guy to have there, and when he's not in the lineup, he usually comes off and gives us a quality at-bat off the bench. He's making a statement for himself."