The numbers Michael Morse was putting up in spring training were obscene.
The Nationals outfielder, named the team's everyday left fielder midway through spring training a result in large part of his torrid start at the plate, ended spring training with a .364 average and a .421 on-base percentage to go with nine homers and 18 RBI in just 21 games.
Eleven games into the regular season, Morse is 4-for-27 with no extra-base hits and that hot spring training is becoming a distant memory.
The left fielder, back in the lineup Thursday night after sitting out the previous two games feeling under the weather, was dropped to the sixth spot in the lineup for the first time this season.
"He was so hot during the spring," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. "It's hard to stay that hot. You always want to give your best at-bats throughout the spring, but I think it can get in your head a little bit that you might want to save some of these hits, and I think he's got a little of that going in his head.
"At the beginning of the spring, he was, every day, getting a couple of extra-base hits. He cooled off a little, and then he got hot again. I think he's cooled off a little, and now he's going to get hot again. He's too good a hitter to not go out there and start getting it going here pretty soon."
His movement in the lineup, which perhaps could be read as a comment on his recent struggles, was more about getting hot-hitting catcher Wilson Ramos up a little higher in the order than dropping Morse lower.
For his part, Morse isn't getting too high or low over the current skid, even with nine strikeouts in 27 at-bats.
He hasn't made any drastic changes to his stance at the plate and isn't working on anything specific with hitting coach Rick Eckstein other than to maintain the routine that he began in spring training.
"The season just started," Morse said. "We've got a lot more games. I just need to start getting consistent at the plate, and everything will be fine."
But this isn't the first time Morse has had a good spring training and not been able to fully reproduce that effort during the regular season.
One scout went so far as to say that Morse's spring this year is more than likely an aberration. But while he's never been able to replicate the spring numbers, he's also never been given an opportunity to work at it every day.
This year he has been - and will be - given enough room to figure things out without his job being at stake.
"Mike always has a good spring," Riggleman said. "Then last year, had a good year, but his year was a little bit in the mode of coming to the ballpark, seeing if you're going to play, where you're going to play, where you're going to hit in the lineup, and sometimes that can be very comforting for a player to just be kind of, not holding down a position. You've got a good feeling you're going to be in there, but you're not sure if you're going to be in left, or right or first, or whether you're going to be hitting fifth or sixth or seventh.
"Becoming an everyday player comes with responsibility of holding down that job, and that can be tough on a player, but he's going to get every opportunity to do it. We're going to keep running him out there. He's earned it, and I fully expect him to do it."
NOTES: MLB announced Thursday that the 2011 draft will officially begin June 6 at 7 p.m. The Nationals will be picking sixth overall and also 23rd in the first round as compensation for the Chicago White Sox signing Adam Dunn this offseason. The Nationals also will be selecting 34th overall in the compensation round, between the first and second rounds, in another pick for losing Dunn, who was a Type-A free agent. ... Reliever Henry Rodriguez (neck) has completed the Double-A portion of his rehab stint, moving on to Triple-A after four innings, during which he struck out seven and walked none.
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