NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals’ run of injuries to key players took another disheartening turn on Tuesday. Outfielder Michael Morse took himself out of Monday night’s game with Single-A Hagerstown after the seventh inning and was sent back to Washington to have his strained right lat muscle re-examined.
An injury that began as minor and was expected to cost Morse no more than a few days during the spring now has an indefinite timetable for recovery.
Morse was struggling just to throw the ball back to the shortstop from left field Monday night, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, and was scheduled to visit with Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih on Tuesday. He will not be ready by Thursday’s home opener as expected, a tough blow for a Nationals lineup that had been expecting to welcome him back to the cleanup spot in their lineup.
“(The doctors are) concerned about it,” Johnson said. “The reports I got, it kind of got progressively worse during the ballgame… (and) he had to leave the game. That’s not a good sign.”
“I was kind of looking forward to pencilling him in the lineup on Thursday,” he added. “Obviously that’s not going to happen.”
Morse has already had an MRI, a sonogram, a cortisone shot and a platelet-rich plasma injection to speed healing in the area. He traveled to New York City on Saturday to get treatment from a specialist on the recommendation of Jayson Werth. At the time, Johnson said the trip was a “personal decision” and not something the team had ordered.
Before Thursday he had not played with any regularity since March 6, the day he was originally scratched from the Nationals’ spring lineup. He did not play the field once during the spring, but the issue has never caused him trouble when swinging, only throwing. On March 23, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo still felt optimistic Morse could be ready for Opening Day.
A sonogram done on the area on March 28 revealed that the tear had “flattened out” and healed, clearing the way for Morse to resume baseball activities. He hit well during his abbreviated rehab stint, hitting .417 (5-for-12) with two doubles and a home run in three games with Double-A Harrisburg and one with Hagerstown. Until Monday, though, Morse had not tried to play nine innings in the field. Johnson informed the left fielder last week that in order for him to feel comfortable returning him to the active roster, Morse would have to do so.
“He couldn’t,” Johnson said. “So that really distresses me.”
Johnson was uncertain what the next step might be for Morse if this is indeed a setback, as feared. Asked if surgery would be the next option, Johnson was sullen and reserved.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “I don’t know. I really don’t know… I thought the initial reports we got on his little tear was that it was healed.”
Morse is one of four Nationals regulars who began the season on the disabled list, center fielder Rick Ankiel, right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and closer Drew Storen. He’s also the second of those four to suffer what appears to be a significant setback.
Storen visited with Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday after the tenderness in his elbow, that was initially deemed joint inflammation, returned when he faced hitters for the first time in his rehab. The Nationals were still awaiting the results of his visit with Andrews on Tuesday evening and feared Storen could be dealing with bone chips in his elbow.
Ankiel and Wang continued to progress well in their rehabs and Ankiel appears set to return to the active roster as soon as he’s eligible on April 14.