VIERA, Fla. - In sports, there are typically two schools of thought on how a player should answer reporters' questions about the possibility of sharing his playing time or dealing with a reduced role.
The first: Answer the question confidently, but not defiantly. Say something like, "I'm confident I can play every day," or, "If I play the way I know I can, I expect to be out there." Veteran players might add an optional "still," to say, "I'm still confident I can play every day." The key is to state belief in yourself, hopefully sending a message to your superiors that you're going all-out to win a job, making them look good in the process.
The second: Don't rock the boat. Defer to the decision-makers, and say you'll be happy to do whatever's asked of you. Possible responses include, "That's not up to me. All I can do is play my best, and everything will take care of itself," or perhaps, "I'm just trying to help the team, and I'll do whatever they ask me to do." Or, if you're feeling really saucy, you might try for a, "I don't care what my role is. I'm just happy to be part of this team," though that may come off as showing too little fire.
Honesty may be mixed in, depending on a player's preference, but it's a dangerous tactic if not applied properly.
That's what makes Michael Morse's take on his role with the Nationals so refreshing: he moves effortlessly between the two schools of thought, answering questions about a platoon again this spring. And, he seems to be doing it with more than a splash of honesty.
Morse was one of the surprises of the Nationals' season last year, hitting 15 homers in 98 games and playing so well off the bench that he had fans clamoring for him to get more playing time. Morse finally got it toward the end of the season, when injuries opened up space in the Nationals' outfield.
That hasn't guaranteed him anything this spring; in fact, he might have more competition for playing time this year than he did last year. He's likely to share time in left field with Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel, and could also play at first base, too. But Morse intends to take his shot at a full-time job, knowing he can excel in other roles if he doesn't get it.
"There's no one in this game that doesn't want to play everyday," Morse said. "If somebody tells you they don't want to play everyday, they're either lying to you, or they shouldn't even be playing. I'd love to play everyday. I'd love to get the chance. But I know my role, no matter what."
Morse's career trajectory has closely mirrored that of Jayson Werth, the outfielder who bumped Morse to left field this spring after he signed with the Nationals in December. Like Morse, Werth was a late bloomer who took off once he got the chance to play, averaging 29 homers a season the last three years with the Phillies.
Stat geeks have long compared the two players, and not only is Morse aware of the similarity, he embraces it. He first identified with Werth while he was in Seattle, when Raul Ibanez - Morse's first late bloomer mentor - told him he played like Werth. The two were built the same, had both shuttled around different positions in the minors and even looked a little bit alike.
So Morse picked No. 28 - Werth's number - and started growing his hair out. He watched the way Werth tracked balls in right field, and even emulated Werth's compact swing, which has helped him hit right-handers. When Werth signed with the Nationals, Morse happily gave up his number and picked No. 38.
"He's like a Raul Ibanez. He came in late," Morse said. "These guys got their shot, they took it and they kicked in the door."
Werth played with Ibanez the last two years in Philadelphia, and will now play with Morse in Washington. He had his breakout season at age 29, and Morse turns 29 in March. The circle would appear to be complete, if only Morse gets the chance to play. Bernadina has gotten plenty of attention for his bulked-up physique this spring, and is probably superior to Morse defensively. But offensively, Morse might provide the best option to extend the Nationals' lineup.
He hit righties at a .287 clip last year, almost the same as his .295 average against lefties, though his slugging percentage against lefties was almost 160 points better. But Bernadina hasn't been able to solve lefties, and Ankiel is a .232 career hitter against left-handers. If anyone has a chance to seize the job every day, it's probably Morse.
He certainly believes that, wants to do it and is shooting for it this spring. That would be the next step on the path Werth blazed for him. But Morse's attitude won't be affected by the outcome.
"It's a tough role, not playing everyday and trying to have success," Morse said. "But I told myself, 'No matter what, I'm not going to fail.' ... I'm not getting any younger, that's for sure. Just keep fighting. That's what we do all the time."