Assessing the Nationals' first base situation

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Sitting in a quiet clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth spoke for the first time since the team arrived in Milwaukee. He spoke with a 1-7 road trip in his rearview.

His comments were ominous: “Things need to change,” he said. “I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going on around here.”

While the 21-28 Nationals have an off day before a six-game homestand to figure out what exactly they can change to keep the 2011 season from derailing before the calendar turns to June, one area they won’t be making any immediate changes is at first base.

With Adam LaRoche out for the next few weeks — and perhaps much longer if the rest prescribed for the torn labrum in his left shoulder doesn’t solve his problems — the Nationals, for now, are prepared to go with what they’ve got before looking elsewhere.

That’s not to say the Nationals are opposed to upgrading their options at first base with LaRoche out. Like all teams, they’ve done their due diligence and discussed available outside options — and will continue to — but one source indicated that the Nationals would prefer to see what they have on the roster before they make any additional moves.

Michael Morse, LaRoche’s primary back up and now primary replacement, was underwhelming when given his first opportunity this season to be an every day player. Handed the starting left field job in spring training, Morse struggled to get out of the gate offensively and ultimately lost his stranglehold on the position to the power-hitting Laynce Nix. 

The Nationals’ outfield is crowded and only got more so when Rick Ankiel returned from the disabled list, but with LaRoche hitting the 15-day disabled list on Monday, Morse has found another place where he can get regular starts. 

Defensively, he’s been — at the very least — adequate. While it’d be tough to replicate the defense of LaRoche, who was a welcome change at first base for the Nationals and Nationals fans, Morse is certainly not a liability at the position. Morse is a go-with-the-flow type of guy and he’s been taking grounders and first base, as well as a host of other positions, all year. He seems comfortable there and, in the past four games, there hasn’t been any obvious reason to suggest his fellow infielders don’t feel the same way.

At the beginning of the season, Morse mentioned how much he was enjoying learning left field and the more he played out there the more he picked up. Chances are it’ll be the same at first base, a position he hasn’t played a ton at in the major leagues. For now, the indications are that he’ll continue to get an opportunity.

The Nationals could also use Alex Cora at first base, as well as Matt Stairs and perhaps Rick Ankiel (though Ankiel has never played the position in the major leagues and couldn’t remember an instance he had played it since high school). But Morse, right now, is their preference. 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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