Labor day leftovers: Morse, Lannan, almost triple plays and a note on Werth's pop up slides

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Michael Morse did what he does best on Monday afternoon: he hit two home runs in the Nationals 7-2 blowout over the Dodgers. 

It’s become commonplace, it seems, for Morse to finish a game with multi-hits and multi-homers. In a season that has been nothing less than one of the best in the National League, Morse is now hitting .315 with a .369 on-base percentage and .562 slugging percentage. He has 26 homers, 82 RBI and a .931 OPS.

But perhaps even more impressive than what Morse has put together this season is what he’s done of the last 151 games of his career, dating back to this time last season, and giving him 580 plate appearances, Morse is hitting .307 with a .369 on-base percentage and a .554 slugging percentage. He has 31 home runs and 36 doubles in that span. In short, he’s a bonafide slugger.

“It’s real,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.

“He knows what he’s trying to do. He knows his approach. He knows how they’re trying to pitch him. He’s got tremendous power the other way and obviously they’re going to try to pound him in. He knows how to get at it. He knows the strike zone. He’s learning more about the strike zone inside. He’s taking more pitches, not even offering at them, inside. That’s when you know a guy’s got a good command of the strike zone and he knows what they’re trying to do… He knows he can hit the ball the other way and he’s making adjustments in.”

“To me,” he added. “It’s real.”

Morse is currently fifth in the National League in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage and third in slugging. His 26 homers are 12th most in the league and he’s the only guy on that list who probably wasn’t expected to be there when the season began. It’s a storyline that never seems to waver or get old for the Nationals. Michael Morse can flat out hit.

“Finally he’s getting a chance to play every day,” said Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez. “I know Mike from when he was with Seattle and he was a good hitter. His height is perfec to be a good hitter. He hits the ball very hard. Finally this year he got the opportunity to play everyday — and first base is a position that you can concentrate on hitting. Basically he took advantage of it. His concentration that he takes every day, his preparation, his focus, go to the cage, go to the videos, see pitches, see who’s pitching, all that, he pretty much takes a lot of pride in what he’s doing right now.

“He’s amazing. What he’s doing right now, it’s pretty good. Hitting over .300, 20-something home runs and the RBI that he has playing every day, it’s good. I’m very happy for him. With everything he went through when he came to the pros, to have the year that he has, it’s pretty awesome.”

– John Lannan pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run baseball on Monday afternoon, good enough for Lannan’s ninth win of the season. Now the value of pitcher wins can be debated until all parties are blue in the face but one thing is certain: they still mean something in the evaluation of pitchers when it comes to their paychecks and Lannan, once again, finds himself on the cusp on the 10-win threshold.

He’s been here before, after all. Lannan won nine games for the Nationals in 2008 and 2009, and eight in 2010 after ripping off six following a promotion back to the major leagues.

This season, however, is different. Lannan is a more mature, smarter pitcher this season. He knows what he’s doing when he does things wrong and he knows how to get back to doing the things that have made him successful. At the beginning of August, after securing his eighth win, he confided in Livan Hernandez that it would mean a lot to him to be able to earn that 10th win (or more) for the first time in his career.

Now that it’s within sight, Lannan admitted as much.

“It’d be awesome,” Lannan said. “I have a couple starts here. I’m going to really try to just go as deep as I can into ballgames. I want to win every game but you can’t control wins and losses. Not really going to focus too much on it. Just going to try and keep doing my job… I think this year is a little different than the first two years stuck at nine. I’m in a better spot now than I had been. This year, I’ts been a good year, I just want to finish strong.”

With regard to Lannan attempting to go deep into games, he tried to go a little deeper into Monday’s, asking Johnson if he could “please” face another batter when Johnson went out to get him.

“All I said was ‘Nice try,’” Johnson said.

“I wasn’t being defiant or anything,” Lannan said with a laugh. “I really just said it like ‘Can I get one more hitter?’ I said it as nice as possible because I wanted to. I felt good and I wanted to keep on battling but my pitch count was high, it was a hot day, I understood why. He said ‘Nice try,’ and that was the end of it.”

– The Nationals were inches away from pulling off a triple play Monday afternoon in the fourth inning when Russell Mitchell send a 1-1 changeup hard toward Ryan Zimmerman with two men on. Zimmerman promptly stepped on third base, zipped the throw to Danny Espinosa at second and watched as Espinosa ripped off a throw to first baseman Chris Marrero. The throw was a bit wide of the bag and just skipped under the glove of an outstretched Marrero.

It left the Nationals wondering what might have been.

“I thought I was going to see a triple play right there,” said shortstop Ian Desmond “It was close. We’ve got the arm right there at second base for it but we’ll get one. I know it’s just a matter of time.

“Right when it got hit, I knew Zim was thinking it and I know Espi was thinking it. It was just a matter of making two good throws. Once you get two there, there’s no harm in trying to turn around and let one go, especially with his arm. I’ll take my chance with my arm and I know he’ll take a chance with his.”

“That would have been awesome,” Lannan said. “I’ve got to look at the video but I didn’t even think about it. He hit the ball and I was like, ‘OK.’ Then he threw to second and I was like, oh, ‘There might be a chance,’ and then the throw was a little wide. It would have been cool.”

– Chances are, if you’ve watched the Nationals enough this season, at some point or another, you’ve seen Jayson Werth round first base hard and do a pop-up slide between first and second. It’s an interesting move — one that maybe a handful of other major leaguers does (though Werth couldn’t come up with any others off the top of his head). So, after game No. 139, Werth explained himself.

“I think it’s the only way to do it,” Werth said. “You’ve got to round the bag hard. You round first, you pick up the play, then you look at first and you lose the play. You’ve got to round the bag hard because when you stop looking at the play you can’t see if they bobble the ball.

“Maybe it’s just my size and I was kind of tall and gangly when I was younger, stopping wasn’t really the easiest thing for me to do so I just kind of was like, ‘I’ll just pop up slide.’ For me it’s the best option. It’s not easy to shut it down like that and plant, turn around and go back the other way. For me it is, just slide, stop, pop up and run back. No, heavy deceleration on the joints. I don’t know. I rarely ever see it.”

As an added bonus, it helps Werth get his uniform dirty. 

“I strive to be the dirtiest guy on the team,” Werth added.

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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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