The Washington Times - March 12, 2011, 09:44PM

VIERA, Fla. — The Nationals came into this spring knowing that the outfield competition, save for Jayson Werth’s right field spot, was wide open.

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Michael Morse is making the decision in left field easier each and every time he steps to the plate.

After getting a ringing endorsement from general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman Saturday morning, Morse made them look good by crushing a two-run homer over the right field fence at Space Coast Stadium later that afternoon. He finished the day 2-for-3 with three RBI, after an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth.

“He’s gotten an opportunity, and he’s taken the bull by the horns,” Rizzo told reporters before the Nationals 6-5 walkoff victory over the New York Yankees. “If opening day was tomorrow, he certainly would be our opening day left fielder.”

After putting up impressive numbers in limited appearances in 2010 (Morse hit .289 with 15 homers and 41 RBI in just 266 at-bats last year), he’s making quite a statement this spring.

Through the first two weeks of the spring schedule, Morse is hitting .500. He’s hit five home runs — the latest in back-to-back games, and is one shy of Danny Espinosa’s team lead in RBI with 10.

There’s no question Morse is stating a strong case to be in the Nationals’ opening day lineup and seize the job as the team’s everyday left fielder.

“Mike’s winning the job,” Riggleman said in his session with reporters Saturday morning. “We want somebody to take over those positions. Mike is making a statement that, ‘I’m the guy.’ We welcome that. We’re not looking to platoon. I’m just reacting to what I see. He’s just played so well.”

“He just needs to make contact and the ball’s going to carry for him,” Riggleman added after the game Saturday. “It’s a continuation of what he’s been doing.”

 

As for his competition, Saturday didn’t do anything to help close the gap. Roger Bernadina, who started in center, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and has cooled some since starting the spring on a tear.

However, Bernadina’s still batting a respectable .259 and, if anything, Morse’s emergence in left has shifted the competition spotlight over to Nyjer Morgan in center — who has begun to come around but still doesn’t have impressive numbers after nine spring games (5-for-26, .192 average, one RBI and three stolen bases in five attempts).

It will be interesting to see which of the two — assuming Morse continues to do well and ensure the left field spot — emerge as the outfield’s third starter.