The fan called to Michael Morse on Thursday afternoon from behind the dugout. His question was the same one everyone has been asking for what seems like the better part of 2012. "How are you feeling?" the fan asked Morse, pointing to his own back to make sure Morse knew he was asking about his torn right lat muscle.
Morse, whose restless energy has been reaching its boiling point lately, smiled and gave the fan a thumbs up.
Given what Morse told Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson earlier in the day, that was a subtle way to give news that seemed befitting of a more exuberant display. Morse and the Nationals had been targeting June 8 in Boston for the slugger's return to the active roster.
But Morse will leave for Viera, Fla., on Monday when the Nationals leave for a nine-game, 10-day road trip, He told Johnson not to be surprised if he's ready when it's over.
"[The eighth] was my day," Johnson said. "I threw that out there trying to give the trainers and the doctors a date that I wanted him back swinging, because he could DH against the American League clubs. We'd been set for that for about three weeks. He came to me [Thursday] and said 'When you come off the road trip, I'll be ready.' "
It has been a long road back for Morse, who was first scratched from the Nationals' spring lineup with the lat strain March 6. It went from being a minor injury that might keep him out for a few days to one that, at one point, had Morse worried he might need surgery that would sideline him for 9-12 months. He's undergone MRIs, platelet-rich plasma shots, a sonogram, a rehab assignment at the start of the season that led to a significant setback and, most recently, a six-week period of inactivity.
But Morse finally can see the potential end of the injury road, and the Nationals' biggest issue right now might be keeping him on a conservative pace so as not to risk further injury, again.
Morse, who spends a significant amount of time sitting in the cage tracking balls with his eyes, is scheduled to throw every other day as he gradually rebuilds endurance in his right arm.
After his first session, in which he made 60 throws from 30-40 feet Wednesday, Morse likened the experience to a "monkey riding a bike."
"He said 'I feel great. I threw a bunch yesterday, and they don't know it, but I've been hitting,' " Johnson said. "I said 'That's good. I'll try to keep that a secret.' ... Of course then Mike goes to me, 'I'm doing something every day. Just don't worry about it.' "
Johnson has cautioned Morse to safeguard himself from pushing too hard and suffering another setback. Team trainers told Johnson and Morse that his tear was 80 percent healed last week, and they expected him to be 100 percent healed in another week. Johnson said Morse likely will undergo another MRI before leaving for Viera to verify the healing.
Morse will get at-bats in Viera next week and almost certainly will require a rehab assignment before he's activated. Whether they can squeeze all of that in while the Nationals are away is yet to be determined. But Morse clearly doesn't think it'll take too long.
"He looks strong," Johnson said. "I've been in the workout room when he's working out, and he's doing things that you can't do when you're hurt. He's lifting things and doing things. He's in good shape.
"As big and strong as he is, the doctors tell him he can go, and they're expanding and letting him do pretty much everything right now, so I don't think it's going to take much time. I don't see anything holding him back other than the doctors being on the safe side and giving him the green light to go."
NOTE: Utility man Mark DeRosa, who has been on the disabled list since April 29 with a left oblique strain, said he was feeling much improved Thursday. He threw, took dry swings and did running at Nationals Park, the most activity he said he's had in the past two weeks. DeRosa will join the Nationals on their road trip, and Johnson said he still is roughly a week away.
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