Lounging in a brown recliner inside the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Monday afternoon, his workout for the day finished, all Michael Morse could do was watch his teammates prepare for their game against the Houston Astros. It was a feeling he’ll have to get used to.
“I feel like I’ve been shut down since camp,” Morse said with a resigned shrug, one week into a six-week shutdown period to heal his now torn right lat muscle.
It could have been worse. A potential surgery, which was ultimately ruled out, would have come with a 9-12 month recovery period — a harrowing possibility.
A week ago, his path appeared to be a very different one. Play nine innings and return to the active roster just in time for the Nationals’ home opener on April 12, that was the plan.
But on a cold night in Hagerstown, Md., Morse began to feel discomfort severe enough he struggled to throw the ball back to the shortstop from left field, and he asked fellow rehabbing teammate Rick Ankiel for advice.
“If it’s hurting today, it’s going to hurt tomorrow,” Ankiel told him.
Morse pulled himself from the game in the seventh inning, traveled back to Washington that night and underwent an MRI the next morning. It showed the tear, which had appeared to heal enough on March 28 to clear Morse to return to baseball activities, had worsened.
Nationals medical director Wiemi Douoguih told him then about the possible surgical option and while Morse was “trying to soak that in,” and struggling with the reality that would bring, Douoguih sent his films to Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Both agreed that surgery would most likely not, in fact, be necessary. But Andrews requested an in-person visit with Morse, so he was on the next flight out to Pensacola, Fla., to one of Andrews’ satellite offices.
Morse had a second platelet-rich plasma shot that day in Andrews’ office and plans to have another in two or three weeks, but the prognosis of rest over surgery was confirmed. “A sigh of relief,” Morse called it. Morse had his first PRP shot on March 22.
“It’s a rare kind of injury,” Morse said. “And there’s not a lot of literature about how to fix it. The only thing there is so far is the protocol has been six week shutdown.”
The idea being that with the healing he showed after two weeks of inactivity this spring extended to six weeks, the muscle will fully recover and any worry of re-injuring it will pass. A lot of that depends on Morse listening to the doctors and allowing his six-week shutdown to be a complete and total shutdown. He is allowed to do cardio work as well as lower body conditioning but no upper-body work and extremely minimal swinging. While the Nationals are on the road, Morse plans to sit on a chair in the batting cages and track pitches as they go by. When he began playing in rehab games on April 5, Morse said he felt good physically and could identify pitches well. While he didn’t feel 100 percent baseball ready, “I felt close to it.”
His setback was a surprise to all parties, including the Nationals’ coaches and front office staff.
Morse, who has the cleanup spot saved for him in the Nationals’ lineup after hitting 31 home runs in 2011, admitted he might have tried to push himself too quickly this spring simply because he felt well enough to do so. He likened himself to a pit bull on a leash “just trying to get away,” and the Nationals were the ones holding the leash.
“Maybe I didn’t know how bad it was,” Morse said, lamenting that he went through with a cortisone shot early on in the process which really only masked the pain but didn’t speed the healing. “Maybe I should have really rested.
“Even if I feel good in four weeks, in three weeks, I really have to tell myself, ‘No.’ Even if I feel good, inside it still needs to heal.”