The Nationals lineup for tonight’s series opener with the Florida Marlins (one of the final few times we’ll be calling them that) doesn’t include either Jayson Werth or Michael Morse, Nationals manager Davey Johnson instead slotting Roger Bernadina into left field and Laynce Nix into right.
Both Bernadina and Nix have been dealing with injuries. Nix (groin) hasn’t started a game since Sept. 1 and Bernadina (hand) hasn’t started since Sept. 4. so Friday provided an opportunity for them both to get into the game against right-hander Javier Vazquez, who, by the way, Laynce Nix has great numbers against (4-for-11 with a double, a home run and three RBI).
But the opportunity to rest Morse — which Johnson joked made it easier for Werth to take the news that he wasn’t playing knowing Morse wasn’t either — also provides an opportunity to discuss where he fits best in the Nationals defense.
The reasons for his recent move to left field are obvious: the Nationals want to see what they have in Chris Marrero at the major league level and their plan for 2012, so far, includes Adam LaRoche. Now is the time to get Morse reacquainted with left field because chances are first base will be taken next spring.
To be fair, for a guy hitting .303, slugging .541 and with 27 home runs, there’s no real “drop off” wherever he’s playing, but the numbers (albeit a skewered sample size) do belie that Morse is a better hitter when he’s playing first base than when he’s playing left. As a first baseman this season, Morse hit .336 with a .401 on-base percentage and a .601 slugging percentage with 19 home runs. As a left fielder, he’s hitting .242 with a .274 OBP and .438 slugging.
Since switching back to left field, Morse has hit .225 with a .276 OBP but a .535 slugging percentage. In those 17 games, he has just 16 hits, but 10 of those are for extra bases and six of them are home runs.
“He’s been productive at any position,” Johnson said. “I know there was some conversation in the media from his agent that it was kind of cruel and unfair treatment to be moving a guy that’s performing at a high level. But, again, it all goes back to what’s best for the team. He’s going to have to play out there if Adam LaRoche comes back and does the things he’s capable of doing.”
For the record, this is the first time anything about Morse being even remotely disgruntled about the switch to left field has come up. The way Johnson phrased it, however, was more about people questioning his decision to move him rather than Morse voicing any complaint over it. Morse has said, continues to say, and will continue to say that he does not care where he’s playing in the field. “Wherever it says next to my name, I’ll play,” Morse said just last week.
“It really was kind of a one-sided conversation,” Johnson said of his initial discussion with Morse about the move, prior to the arrival of Marrero. “It was: ‘You’re playing left.’ … Everybody is aware of your situation and everybody is concerned with not having to do something new and strange. But everything boils down to what’s best for the team. And everyone knows that. So it’s not a real hard conversation to get across to anybody.”
Defensively, Morse’s play in left has left a little to be desired, but that’s to be expected some when a guy moves from infield to outfield after such a long stay. The numbers suggest that he’s a better hitter as a first baseman, and while that may well be true, he hasn’t played left field long enough to truly come to that conclusion.
The bottom line is that he’s the team’s best hitter, he’s been their best hitter since May and even with a slight drop-off since moving to left field, he remains their best hitter.
“He’s certainly capable,” Johnson said. “He’s done a good job in the outfield, just like he did at first base. The one thing he can’t complain about is he hasn’t hit anywhere but fourth.”
– Werth’s left leg was not bothering him enough to warrant a day off, Johnson said, noting that Werth did not ask for it and wasn’t thrilled with the decision but the day off might do him some good after he played all four games in New York.
– Here are the full lineups behind Vazquez and John Lannan as Lannan looks for his 10th win of the season:
Ian Desmond SS
Roger Bernadina LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Laynce Nix RF
Rick Ankiel CF
Danny Espinosa 2B
Chris Marrero 1B
Wilson Ramos C
John Lannan P
Emilio Bonifacio SS
Omar Infante 2B
Mike Stanton RF
Jose Lopez 3B
Logan Morrison LF
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Bryan Petersen CF
John Buck C
Javier Vazquez P