The Washington Times - August 12, 2011, 06:39PM

PHILADELPHIA — Bruised but relieved, Michael Morse was smiling inside the visitors clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon sporting a pretty swollen left elbow and showing off a new elbow guard to wear when he bats.

One day after taking a 91-mph fastball from Ryan Dempster off his elbow, Morse said he was available to pinch hit Friday night in Philadelphia and expected to be available for the starting lineup on Saturday, but after taking grounders at first base during batting practice, Morse did not hit. He had said earlier in the afternoon that he was planning to take batting practice. Morse was still considered available off the bench for Friday night’s game but chances are using him would be avoided for at least the one night.


Morse was still getting treatment on the area to keep swelling low and try to avoid it affecting his range of motion.The slugging first baseman was replaced at first base by Laynce Nix and in the cleanup spot by Jonny Gomes.

It was a scary scene for the Nationals on the field at Wrigley Thursday afternoon when Morse appeared to be in significant pain and doubled over at first base, grimacing. On the Cubs broadcast, the big right-hander was shown extending a trembling arm toward the Nationals trainers, unable to keep it still.

He was taken immediately to a local hospital in Chicago but X-rays came back negative. Losing Morse — and his .319/.364/.554 slash line  — would have been a serious blow to the Nationals and their slowly igniting offense.

“It hit the back of my elbow like right on the bone,” Morse said. “There’s a lot of nerves there, I guess, so it hurt but I’m glad that nothing’s wrong. I can play through the pain. When you know there’s nothing wrong you know you can play through the pain and not hurt anything so, it’s good.”

After Morse was hit in the forearm earlier this year he started wearing a forearm guard. He added an elbow guard to his uniform Friday, admitting that it was something he’d have to get used to — just as he did the first piece of protection — but it was worth it for the piece of mind. 

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said that Morse was still having some trouble straightening his arm. If Morse is unable to be used off the bench tonight, it would leave Johnson with only a three-man bench. The Nationals have been carrying eight pitchers since July 31 and the setup has been working well for Johnson, who prefers the comfort of having two long relievers in the bullpen. That could change if Morse is out for an extended period or needs to go on the disabled list. As of right now, Johnson said he didn’t anticipate any changes on his roster and Morse was expected to be in the lineup on Saturday if able.

“We’re coming up on expanding the roster,” Johnson said. “I don’t see us losing a player or doing some things at this point. We’re just going to have to deal with what we’ve got.” 

– In talking about the lineup Johnson had to throw together with his best hitter missing, it was interesting to note that Jonny Gomes got the shot at cleanup over Jayson Werth and while Brian Bixler, a righty, was put in the lineup at first base originally, he was then replaced with left-handed Laynce Nix.

Johnson said the latter switch was due to a miscommunication between he and bench coach Pat Corrales. Nix hasn’t been given an opportunity to face too many left-handed starters this season, left-handers are hitting .240 off Cole Hamels this season. With that in mind, Johnson opted to give Nix his second start against a left-hander all season. Bixler has played just one career inning at first base and has never started there in the major leagues. 

As for the decision to slot Gomes in at cleanup, Johnson said that was predicated on two things: 1. Gomes’ hot-hitting since he arrived in a Nationals uniform a little more than two weeks ago, and 2. Gomes’ .356 average against left-handed pitching this season (to go along with a .451 on-base percentage and three of his 13 homers), was superior to Werth’s .165 average against left-handers this year, .311 on-base percentage and two homers.

– One other note on the Phillies: this is Johnson’s first trip to Citizens Bank Park and his first series against Philadelphia at the helm of the Nationals. He’s well aware of the differences in the standings between his club and Charlie Manuel’s, but he still looked at the series as a learning opportunity to assess his team going forward.

“This is where you measure your ballclub,” Johnson said. “I always say, at the start of the year, you pick out the teams you’ve got to beat. I think it’s no secret that at the start of the season, the Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat and they’ve certainly proven their worth. It’s going to be interesting for me to see where we matchup and where we need to do some improving.”