- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

JUPTER, Fla. — Michael Morse’s path back to active duty appears longer than the Washington Nationals originally estimated. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Thursday the outfielder was given a platelet-rich plasma injection recently and admitted that he’s “probably” a candidate not to open the season on the Nationals‘ 25-man roster.

Platelet-rich plasma injections are a somewhat new procedure in which a person’s own blood is drawn and, essentially, concentrated so it is mostly platelets — which help to repair muscle tissue — and then injected back into the injured area. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez used the procedure on his right knee. Lakers star Kobe Bryant and golfer Tiger Woods have also undergone the procedure. Orioles pitcher Zach Britton was just given an injection in his shoulder this week by Dr. James Andrews.

The hope is that it will help to heal the small tear or strain that has been causing Morse issues since before he was scratched with a lat strain on March 6.

“It’s an aggressive treatment to help it heal,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Thursday.

But there was no definitive timetable for when the Nationals‘ cleanup hitter might even be allowed to begin baseball activities again. Opening Day is in doubt, but Johnson said “I’m not discounting it and I’m not counting on it.”

“To be clear,” he said later, “it’s very unclear.”

Morse has yet to play the outfield once this spring though he did serve as the team’s designated hitter on March 12 and 13 as the issue was causing him discomfort only when he would throw. Swinging was not an issue. But Morse was scheduled to get at-bats in a minor league game on March 14 and he did not. He has not done any baseball activities since March 13 and has been held out of anything other than cardio and conditioning work lately.

Johnson is hoping that by the time the Nationals return home from a three-game spring training road swing that will take them from Jupiter to Kissimmee and, finally, Sarasota on Saturday, they will have a bit more clarity on not just Morse but also the injuries to first baseman Adam LaRoche (foot) and closer Drew Storen (biceps/triceps).

Johnson said, right now, Morse and right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (left hamstring) appear to be in the most danger of not being fully recovered by the time the Nationals‘ Opening Day roster needs to be set.

“(Morse) was on the bench (Wednesday) and he was putting his arm up and all that,” Johnson said. “And he says, ‘I feel great, but I’m on hold.’ … We’re doing everything we can on all of them. We’re going to be very cautious this time of year — any time of year, but this time of year especially. They’re valuable assets and we’re going to take good care of them.”

Losing Morse from their lineup for an extended period would be a big blow to a Nationals offense that was hoping that with his continued performance, along with improvements from many of their younger players, they would boost their numbers after a sub-par 2011 season at the plate. Morse hit 31 home runs with a .303 batting average, 95 RBI and a .550 slugging percentage during his breakout season last year and Johnson was counting on him to be his cleanup hitter this year.

For now, the Nationals‘ contingency plan will be to increase the opportunities for players like Brett Carroll, Jason Michaels and Chad Tracy in their bids to make the team as non-roster invitees. The Nationals have the option of playing Mark DeRosa in the outfield as well as the infield and Johnson is also planning to get Steve Lombardozzi more experience in the outfield this spring.

The Nationals also recently signed infielder/outfielder Xavier Nady to a minor league deal. But Nady, who will play in his first minor league game on Thursday, is at least 10 to 14 days away from “playing shape,” Johnson said.

Johnson did not believe the Nationals would be forced to go outside the organization to fill the spot on the roster, highlighting the opportunity for Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Carroll and Michaels, and praising the work GM Mike Rizzo did this offseason to build depth in the upper part of the Nationals‘ system. Ankiel and Michaels have opt-outs in their minor league contracts if it appears they are not going to make the Nationals‘ major league roster.

But Morse’s loss in the lineup will be tougher to fill. Since Morse has been out, Johnson has used Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Mark DeRosa at the cleanup spot and he said Thursday that was a good indication as to how he’d try to fill that hole during the season.

“It’s just, we don’t know exactly when Michael Morse will be back,” Johnson said. “It’s my cleanup hitter. We’re not going to push it to where we exacerbate it. This just gives an opportunity to somebody else.”

Morse has maintained throughout, both to reporters and Johnson, that he’s feeling OK. Johnson said he was encouraged by that, despite Morse’s ominous current status.

“The fact he feels fine, the fact that he doesn’t feel the discomfort, that’s good,” Johnson said. “I always like to know how the player feels. That’s a good sign.”

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