- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Washington Nationals put Michael Morse on “total shutdown mode” for the next six weeks after he aggravated his right lat strain this week, leaving them without their cleanup hitter until at least June.

There is no “viable surgical option” to fix Morse’s problem, general manager Mike Rizzo said, so the left fielder will be held out of all activity for six weeks, and the team will reassess at that point how quickly he’ll be able to return to full baseball activities.

“That was not positive news,” Rizzo said. “We tried to ramp him up, get him ready as quickly as we could because he’s a big piece of our lineup, and he just reaggravated it. We’re going to have to be ultra-cautious and make sure he’s right for the majority of the season.”

The Nationals are leery of putting a timetable on Morse’s injury, but after the six-week rest period, he already will have missed the first 50 games or so.

In the meantime, the Nationals said they are comfortable with what they have in-house to fill the space in left field, if not in the cleanup spot. Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa have shared time there, but once Rick Ankiel returns healthy, which is expected this weekend, Roger Bernadina also will be a left field option along with Brett Carroll and Steve Lombardozzi.

It will not, however, change the timetable the team has for top prospect Bryce Harper, who could fill Morse’s spot in the outfield and has the potential to bat clean-up, too. The decision to promote Harper will be made independent of what the needs are for the major league team. He’s been playing center field predominantly with Triple-A Syracuse, but he also has seen time in right field.

The outfield without Morse will be “a work in progress,” Johnson said, and he plans to try out various combinations.

Still, the loss of Morse’s power hurts an offense that last year was one of the National League’s weakest. Washington, which didn’t add a major offensive player in the offseason, believes production will increase as its players mature and improve. But someone will have to step up to fill the void left by Morse, as he did when Adam LaRoche went down in 2011.

“Does it hurt that our four-hole hitter is going to be out for an extended period of time? Sure,” Rizzo said. “But with injuries come opportunities. It’s time for somebody to step up. They’ve got opportunities to play. We’ve got a game today. We’ve got a bunch of games left. And nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. It’s time to go.”

Better news came from closer Drew Storen, who underwent surgery to remove one bone chip from his right elbow Wednesday. No structural problems were found in the elbow, Storen said, but he doesn’t have a timetable to return.

“It’s probably a couple months,” Storen said. “When I come back, I want to be me.”

Additionally, the Nationals learned prospect Anthony Rendon suffered a partial fracture, not a sprain, of his left ankle last week. He is in a boot and will see a foot and ankle specialist Friday, but Rizzo doesn’t expect the injury to end Rendon’s season.