PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The news on both Nationals’ closer Drew Storen and outfielder Michael Morse Wednesday morning was good — both are pain free and threw for the first time yesterday without incident — but came with a caveat.
With spring training dwindling, both also appear likely headed to the disabled list for the start of the 2012 season.
Morse, who was diagnosed with a right lat strain on March 6 and hadn’t done any activity before Tuesday since March 13 (while receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection around then), is scheduled to undergo a sonogram on his back to check on the healing.
Morse is on track to do some throwing from 60-90 feet and then he’ll have the sonogram in Viera to check on the status of the slight tear in his right lat muscle. If all goes well, then Morse will progress to hitting off a tee and doing other baseball activities, at which point Nationals manager Davey Johnson will monitor him on a more daily basis “to see if there’s any discomfort.”
For Storen, the start of his throwing program as he works to build up his strength after some elbow joint inflammation, came and went without incident. He came through the session, in which he played catch at 90 feet, without any pain and he will progress to throwing from 120 feet.
Those were all positive signs for two of the Nationals’ most integral players, but the days in which they have to prepare themselves for Opening Day are passing quickly. Johnson estimated Storen would be ready to re-join the major league club by mid-April, but “I’m being hopeful,” he said.
“This time of year, even if you need a week or two weeks longer, you miss less if you avoid the danger of reoccurrence,” Johnson said.
There is no timetable even as firm as that for Morse because how quickly he progresses will depend on the steps he’s allowed to take each day. “Let’s wait until after the sonogram,” Johnson said.
But the Nationals will leave Florida on Monday night and neither appears ready to be playing in games much before that if at all so they will have to continue their progress without being on the active roster as the rest of the team heads to D.C. and then Chicago.
Players who have spring injuries can be backdated on the disabled list to March 26, as long as they haven’t played in major league games since then, so the first day either would be eligible to come off the disabled list would be April 10. The minor league teams open their seasons on April 5 as well but the only two Nationals affiliates who will open with a homestand are Triple-A Syracuse and Single-A Hagerstwon. Any rehab assignments, most likely, would have to be with those teams if either player is ready to return by the earliest possible date.
Johnson would prefer to carry the players with him, he said, but it appears that too is unlikely, especially with the team starting the season in Chicago and New York, two cities with unpredictable — and often cold — weather in April.
“Ideally I’d love to have them with me,” Johnson said when asked if the injured players would remain in Viera to continue rehab. “I’m still hopeful that they will be able to stay with the club. I’m always being optimistic about it, but it’s getting too close to the start of the season. I want to make sure we go north with all of our bullets.”
Morse and Storen starting the season on the disabled list likely paves the way for Ryan Mattheus and another of the Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels, Roger Bernadina — and possibly Xavier Nady — group to make the team out of camp. Nady was in the Nationals’ lineup playing first base on Wednesday so that Johnson could get a look at him on the major league level.
“They told me he came into camp in good shape,” Johnson said. “He plays outfield/first base. Last I checked I had some guys injured there so why not look at him?”
– Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche (left foot bone bruise) is on track to return to major league games on Thursday, Johnson said, but his official status for the Nationals game against the Atlanta Braves in Viera on Thursday will depend on how he does running the bases in a minor league game on Wednesday. LaRoche was scheduled to be cleared for baserunning on Tuesday but they pushed that back a day.
Johnson was sure to ask LaRoche, though, through third base coach Bo Porter, if he felt he’d be fine to run the bases on Wednesday and play on Thursday. LaRoche confirmed that he would be good to go.
“So I’m waiting with bated breath to hear how he runs the bases,” Johnson said. “He said it wouldn’t (keep him from playing Thursday). I’m not betting the ranch on it. I’m waiting until I hear by the end of the day.”
– Outfielder Rick Ankiel was pulled from Tuesday’s game one at-bat early with the same quad issue that has hampered him for the past two weeks. He told Johnson that he’d need just a few more days and feels he’s close to being fully over it. Johnson estimated Ankiel would be back in the lineup by Friday.
– Nationals utility man Mark DeRosa was scheduled to be on the team’s trip to Port St. Lucie — in place of Nady — but he had some calf cramping on Tuesday that he received treatment for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. DeRosa deemed himself ready for duty but Johnson allowed him to remain back and rest.