Nationals’ Morse: 2011 was ‘tip of the iceberg’

Michael Morse often wondered if he would ever get the chance to

show people the kind of baseball player he always thought he could

be.

The confident Washington Nationals left fielder said Thursday he

never doubted himself.

”That never went away,” Morse said of his confidence. ”I

always just thought, if I get an opportunity, I’m kicking the door

in.”

He did.

Morse is coming off a breakout season, where he hit .303 with 31

home runs, 95 RBI and had an on-base percentage of .360. He was

rewarded with a two-year, $10.5 million contract extension and has

some good news for Nationals’ fans.

”Last year to me was very humbling,” Morse said. ”It was

something that I always knew I could do, but now I feel like it’s

the tip of the iceberg. I feel like I have so much more to offer.

Now I know what I’m able to do.

”I’m just going to work from that and get better.”

Morse is targeting his on-base percentage and being more

consistent, among other things. Though he wants to maintain his

aggressiveness at the plate, he wants to improve his pitch

selection to improve his walk total while reducing his

strikeouts.

”I want to see him stay in the areas he’s looking, and stay in

the strike zone (and play) to his strengths,” Nationals hitting

coach Rick Eckstein said. ”At times, he did chase (pitches) out of

the zones and he would get himself out. But Mike has done a nice

job.

”One of the biggest things is that he really started believing

in himself. Hopefully, we can pick up from where we left off last

year and continue to roll.”

After a year like he had, Morse knows he is expected to only get

better, not to regress, and he’s on board with that. If anything,

what he has been through has made him the player he is today –

someone who appreciates success more because it hardly came

instantly.

Originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2000, Morse was

traded to the Seattle Mariners 2004 where he made it to the big

leagues as a shortstop. Injuries and a lack of opportunities

derailed his chances in Seattle and he was eventually traded to the

Nationals in 2009 where he became a part-time player.

That all changed in spring training last season when he led the

Grapefruit League with nine home runs and earned the starting left

field job (he would eventually move to first base when Adam LaRoche

was lost for the season) and a chance to finally play every

day.

Even then, it wasn’t easy as he hit just .224 with one home run

in April and was benched in May. Morse admitted he was trying to do

too much and decided to take it at-bat by at-bat. When LaRoche got

hurt, he was given another chance, and this time, he kicked in that

door.

”It was awesome,” Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel said.

”Anytime you see a guy have a career year like he did, especially

the route that he took and as long as it took him to get there,

it’s special.

”It’s something you can enjoy with him as a teammate because

you understand what they’re going through and how exciting it is

for them. It’s pretty cool.”

For the first time in his career, Morse has come to spring

training not worried about whether he will finally get that big

break. Manager Davey Johnson said Thursday that Morse will be his

cleanup hitter this season.

The experience of last season has only made him more eager and

hungry to be even better in 2012. The Nationals would certainly

love to see that.

”You watch his swing and how the ball comes off the bat .

there’ s not that many people that can make that sound when the

ball comes off the bat the way it does when it comes off of his,”

Ankiel said. ”It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Notes: Pitcher Chien-Ming Wang’s group threw a 10-minute bullpen

session Thursday, but Wang did not participate. The right-hander is

being given two days off in between throwing sessions as he enters

his first spring training since 2009 where his surgically repaired

right shoulder is healthy. Johnson said it’s likely Wang’s first

spring training start will come in a simulated, or controlled game.

The move is just a precaution . Closer Drew Storen had an

interesting bullpen session. While most pitchers take it nice and

easy, Storen could be seen getting upset with himself when he

didn’t make the pitch the way he wanted to. Nationals pitching

coach Steve McCatty kept telling Storen to slow it down . The line

of the day came from Johnson when discussing new pitcher Gio

Gonzalez. ”He looks fairly normal . for a left-hander,” Johnson

said.