- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

As the Washington Nationals packed up in a cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field and prepared to head to Philadelphia for the final leg of their nine-game road trip, they did so without knowing when they’d have their cleanup hitter and first baseman in the lineup next.

Michael Morse was hit on the left elbow with a 91-mph fastball from Ryan Dempster in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Cubs and doubled over in pain at first base. He was taken to the hospital for X-rays after the game. According to a Nationals’ spokesman, the X-rays came back negative and he was diagnosed with a contusion. He is day-to-day and on the team plane to Philadelphia.

“I’m worried,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s got huge arms and they’re well-protected, but he was in bad shape. … I”ve seen a lot of them, and had a lot of them, but his whole arm was shaking.”

When the trainers came out to attend to Morse, he took off the guard on his lower forearm and tried to outstretch a trembling hand to go through a few tests. He was then removed from the game.

Jonny Gomes replaced Morse on the basepaths and moved to left field when the Nationals began the bottom half of the inning. Laynce Nix shifted to first base. 

Losing Morse for any extended period of time would be a huge blow to the Nationals’ offense as Morse is putting together the finest season of his career and one of the best in the National League. With 6 1/2 weeks to go in the season, Morse was firmly in contention for the NL batting title with a .319 average. He also has 20 homers, 27 doubles, a .369 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage, all of which could amount to him getting some MVP votes.

Just before the All-Star break, Morse was hit on his left forearm with a pitch. He developed a decent-sized welt and sat out for a few games but did not need to go on the disabled list. The injury clearly did not affect his hitting once he returned to the lineup. Thursday’s injury appeared to be further up his arm.

“I don’t think it was the same spot [he got hit in last time],” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, “so he should be OK. … I’m sure whatever they’re doing is just precautionary.”

“He’s been huge for our team,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “Hopefully the X-rays come back negative and it’ll be like it was last time where he’ll miss a day or two and get back in there.”

If Morse needs to go on the disabled list, the Nationals could call up first baseman Chris Marrero from Triple-A. Marrero got off to a slow start in the minor leagues this season but is hitting .307 now with 14 homers and a .383 on-base percentage for Syracuse. Marrero has always been an offensive player but he made a good impression with his defensive improvements during his time in big league spring training.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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