The Washington Times - July 20, 2011, 01:25AM

HOUSTON — Monday night, Michael Morse hit a home run so far that his teammates were still talking about it Tuesday afternoon. The official measurement was 385-feet — a number that seemed more inclined to spare the feelings of 20-year-old Astros pitcher Jordan Lyles than it did to provide an accurate reading. 

It was part of a 3-for-4 night for Morse, who hasn’t seemed to cool since taking over the every day first baseman’s job in mid-May. Tuesday night he did that performance one better, reaching base five times, crushing another two-run homer and doubling twice. The numbers since he began playing regularly at first base are no longer surprising. He’s hitting .332 with 15 homers, 41 RBI and his slugging and on-base percentages are off the charts.


But perhaps even more interesting is that Morse’s home run Tuesday night was his sixth inside a roofed ballpark this season. In fact, inside stadiums with roofs, Morse is hitting .432 with six homers and 17 RBI this season, an astounding mark. At Chase Field in Arizona, Morse was 5-for-17 with a homer and six RBI; at Miller Park in Milwaukee, he was 5-for-13 with three homers and eight RBI.

“He’s unbelievable,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s on fire.”

The trend for Morse in enclosed stadiums goes pretty deep. In his career, he’s a .309 hitter with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in parks with roofs. If you take out the American League ballparks that, as long as he remains with the Nationals, he’ll rarely hit in, Morse hits .403 with nine homers and 22 RBI. 

It’s hard to say if there’s really anything to that or if Morse simply hits when he hits, but the numbers are astounding. It was an interesting bright spot for the Nationals, at least, Tuesday night in an otherwise frustrating loss.

– Jordan Zimmermann was hit in the left shin with a screaming liner in the first inning Tuesday night and it’d be easy to make the correlation between that and the fact that he allowed a season-high six runs in a season-low five innings.

For what it’s worth, Zimmermann and Johnson both shot that theory down. While Zimmermann bent over and put his hands on his knees immediately after impact, pitching coach Steve McCatty, Johnson and trainer Lee Kuntz all came out to visit and Zimmermann was smiling as he talked with them. They asked him to throw a pitch, just to be safe, and Zimmermann obliged but there was little doubt a guy who’d once pitched a playoff game with his jaw wired shut in college was staying in.

“It hurt,” he said, “but I wasn’t going to come out.”

Zimmermann placed the blame for his start on a lack of feel for both his slider or his curveball — one start after the normally soft-spoken Zimmermann admitted he felt he had his best slider ever in a win over the Rockies to close out the Nationals’ first half. 

“I didn’t really know where (my offspeed stuff) was going to go,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a battle, it’s a grind, but that’s where the good pitchers are separated — the ones that can go out there and battle through it when they don’t have their best stuff. Tonight I got hit around a little bit and that was the end of the story.”

– In other news, Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang made his fifth rehab start Tuesday night, this one with Triple-A Syracuse. While it started inauspiciously (Wang surrendered a home run and hit a batter in the head in the first inning) he got through 5 2/3 and reached the all-important 90-pitch mark.

Wang threw 91 pitches, to be exact, 62 of them for strikes, and allowed three earned runs off seven hits and a walk while striking out four. Assuming that he’s able to bounce back from this start and throw a bullpen on Thursday, Wang will make his final rehab start on Sunday and be activated for the first time since 2009 shortly thereafter. 

Wang took a no-decision in the Chiefs’ game, despite leaving with the team trailing, as Syracuse rallied to tie it in the seventh and the recently-optioned Brian Bixler won it for them in the 12th with a sacrifice fly to left field that brought home Seth Bynum with the winning run.