- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

MIAMI | Mike Morse always has possessed the ability to hit. The 27-year-old just hasn’t been able to find a place in the major leagues to consistently play.

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Morse is too big to play either middle infield position. He can hold his own at any corner position, either in the infield or the outfield, but he’s always found himself blocked by more-established players. In Seattle, he was stuck behind the likes of Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and Ichiro Suzuki. With Washington, he’s now stuck behind Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham.

Perhaps, though, the Nationals do have a role for Morse. He may not be able to crack their starting lineup, but since joining the roster last month he’s proven quite adept at pinch hitting.

And after coming off the bench again Friday night to produce the clutch hit that paved the way for Washington’s 5-3 victory against the Florida Marlins, Morse further solidified his standing as Jim Riggleman’s new go-to guy in a pinch.

“He’s gotten some big hits for us,” the interim manager said. “I don’t want to pigeonhole him that way yet. He’s a young guy still. But it’s a valuable asset.”

With a two-out, two-run double to deep center field in the sixth inning, Morse snapped a 2-2 tie and put the Nationals ahead for good. Homers by Dunn and Zimmerman helped the cause, and a pair of nifty escape acts by Mike MacDougal sealed the deal and gave Washington its first victory at Land Shark Stadium in seven tries this season.

Morse’s hit, though, was the biggest blow of the night. He stepped to the plate and drilled a pitch from Marlins reliever Brian Sanches to deep center field and over Cameron Maybin’s leaping grasp. Willingham and Wil Nieves came around to score, and Morse coasted into second base, clapping his hands.

“If this is what I’m doing right now, I’m going to try to do it as best as I can,” said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, who had dozens of friends and family members in attendance. “Whatever situation I’m in, I’m just going to try to play my heart out.”

Though he’s been on Washington’s roster less than a month, Morse - a career .299 hitter who was acquired from the Mariners for outfielder Ryan Langerhans - already has more RBI as a pinch hitter (five) than anyone else on the club this season.

“It’s a mental approach you’ve got to have,” he said. “You’ve really got to focus. This is your one at-bat the whole game, and you can’t give it away at all.”

Morse had the opportunity to deliver Friday night because starter J.D. Martin (4-4) matched Florida ace Josh Johnson in allowing two runs and two hits over five innings. Each right-hander surrendered a two-run homer in the first - Dunn connected off Johnson; Hanley Ramirez took Martin deep - and each held the opposition at bay after that despite four walks apiece and elevated pitch counts.

Because of all the extra work, Johnson was pulled by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez after the fifth, a move that allowed Morse to produce his hit off the less formidable Sanches. Zimmerman added a solo homer in the seventh, giving Washington a three-run lead, but it still required some clutch pitches from MacDougal to finish the game.

Asked to enter with one out in the eighth and two men on, MacDougal escaped the jam on one pitch, inducing a double play from John Baker.

“I just felt like this is the key point of the game right here with MacDougal,” Riggleman said. “Let’s see if we can get a ground ball, and he got it.”

Washington’s closer did it again an inning later. After serving up a leadoff homer to Dan Uggla and then putting two more runners on base, MacDougal struck out Emilio Bonifacio and then got Chris Coghlan to ground into another double play, this one ending the ballgame.

It was the 12th twin killing in the right-hander’s 471/3 innings this season, and it didn’t happen by accident.

“I’m sure hoping for a double play if there’s a guy on first,” he said. “Yeah, I’m kind of pitching to one. It doesn’t always work. But if a guy’s on first base, I’m trying to get a ground ball.”

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