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The Morse Effect

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The Morse Effect

Michael Morse could make his season debut for the Nationals tonight.

That decision hasn't officially been made yet, and it's possible the club will want the slugger to play at least one more game on his rehab assignment, get a few more at-bats and make a few more throws from the outfield before activating him off the disabled list.

But there's certainly a chance we'll see Morse in the lineup tonight against the Braves, or at worst within the next few days. And once he does rejoin the Nationals after missing nearly three months with a torn right lat muscle, his effect on the team should be profound.

Start, of course, with Morse's bat, which will be a welcome addition to a Nationals lineup that currently ranks 12th in the NL in batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.313), ninth in slugging percentage (.394) and 13th in runs scored (192).

Now, it's probably too much to ask for Morse to step right in and immediately pick up where he left off at the end of his breakthrough 2011, when he led the club with a .303 average, 31 homers and 95 RBI. It may take a little while for him to get comfortable facing big-league pitching again.

There's also the possibility Morse won't be the same hitter he was a year ago, that his breakthrough season was an anomaly, not a precursor to more of the same. (Though there's plenty of reason to believe it was not a fluke.)

More than anything else, Morse's return should have a positive effect on the rest of the Nationals' lineup. What at times this year has been a less-than-imposing starting nine all of a sudden looks a lot more potent.

Where will Morse hit? For now, look for manager Davey Johnson to slot him in the fifth spot, behind the Bryce Harper-Ryan Zimmerman-Adam LaRoche trio that has worked well to date. Opposing pitchers might be less inclined to pitch around LaRoche now, and Morse certainly should find himself with plenty of RBI opportunities there.

Where will he play in the field? Look for him to start out in right field, a position he didn't play last season but did man some in 2010. This wasn't the Nationals' original plan, but with Jayson Werth injured and Steve Lombardozzi establishing himself as a viable leadoff hitter and left fielder, it probably makes the most sense for now.

That will leave the Nationals with a potent offensive outfield of Lombardozzi, Harper and Morse ... and though defense could be a bit shaky, Johnson will have Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina available off the bench should his team hold a lead late.

Will Morse's return cure everything that ails the Nationals? No. They're still dealing with plenty of other injuries and have plenty of other question marks.

But after surviving the season's first two months with nothing but negative news on the injury front, it's nice to know they're finally getting a key player back instead of losing one.

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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

It's not just the City of Brotherly Love that heckles Bryce Harper from time to time, it's also one of the clubs he spurned during his offseason tour before settling on Philadelphia.

Prior to losing on a walk-off single to Cubs' star Javy Baez, Harper had a battle going on aside from the scheduled matchup, and that battle didn't involve any players on the opposing squads, but it did include the fans that fill their seats at Wrigley Field.

After the fans booed him all evening and labeled him overrated, the former Nats star chucked a fastball right over their heads and across the street.

Fortunately, the ball didn't break any nearby windows.

We hope. 

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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-5, Tuesday to drop their record to 19-29. Here are five observations from the game…

1. They gave the lead back in the seventh, then again in the eighth before losing in the ninth. You know who “they” is.

A three-run homer run off Wander Suero provided the first shot against the Nationals’ league-worst bullpen. Suero threw a curveball to pinch-hitter J.D. Davis, who is hitting .429 against breaking pitches this year, and Davis hit it into the right-field stands. Not only is Davis potent against breaking pitches, but the curveball is also Suero’s worst pitch. He was beat on a curveball in the ninth inning April 14 to lose the lead. Afterward, in April, manager Davey Martinez said he was surprised by the pitch call. Yan Gomes was calling pitches that game, too. Yet, they called it Tuesday night, despite the dual emphatic counters to why that’s a good pitch in that situation.

“He got two big strikeouts with it,” Gomes said of the selection. “We were trying to expand the zone with it and just when you leave pitches up to good hitters, they're going to do some damage to it. I think [leaving pitches up] can beat anybody. We were trying to expand the zone, we left up just enough for him to hit it and J.D. did what he did. He's a good hitter and he made us pay for it.”

The Nationals rallied for two runs in the eighth to again take the lead back. Trea Turner doubled to drive in a run. Juan Soto followed with a double. Washington led, 5-4.

Matt Grace came in. He retired Robinson Cano in a lefty-lefty matchup. Hard-throwing Tanner Rainey entered to face Mets stud rookie Pete Alonso, who entered the game with 15 home runs. His 16th soared just inside the foul pole -- according to an on-field call then “inconclusive” crew chief replay review -- four pitches later. Tie game.

Both relievers failed in their execution. Suero didn’t want his pitch up. Rainey did. Neither hit the proper spot.

Rainey remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth. He walked two after picking up an out. He left. Kyle Barraclough entered. His first pitch was a broken-bat bloop toward Brian Dozier. He intentionally let it drop to try to trick the Mets into a double play. Instead, it produced an out at second.

Amed Rosario hit a one-hop grounder to shortstop. He beat the throw to first for a walk-off infield single. You read that right.

So, the line for second-guessing starts at Rainey’s initial entrance with one out in the eighth inning, when the Nationals held a 5-4 lead. Why didn’t Barraclough pitch there to hold the lead and set up Sean Doolittle for the ninth?

“I liked the matchup with Rainey, with the velocity and his slider,” Martinez said. “For me, the matchup was … and he got ahead. He just didn’t get the ball up.”

Rainey returned to the mound to start the ninth. Barraclough, who has allowed seven of eight inherited runners to score this season, could have started the inning. Instead, he came in with runners on base, then lost the game. It should be noted nothing was hit hard against Barraclough. However, the outcome was the outcome.

Also, should Turner have charged the grounder to try for a short hop against the fleet Rosario?

“Decision either stay back and catch it and make a hard throw or run and kind of make a do-or-die play,” Turner said. “I guess looking back at it, you try the other one since it didn't work out. But, felt like I gave myself a chance to make the play, complete the play and get out of the inning.”

And, for the first time, the weight of fighting back only to have the bullpen lose the game -- again -- began to show in the Nationals’ clubhouse postgame when Gomes was asked about the need to properly finish games and soon.

“I think you're nailing it but I think we don't need to, kind of a -- it's happening,” Gomes said. “I mean we can't put that aside. I think it's happening we need to figure out how to do it. I think it's just a matter of keep playing. Keep playing until the game's over and not wait for that moment to happen.

“I think mostly the seventh, eighth innings start happening or when those runs start coming in we, I mean you definitely see a drop. We were still tied and you kind of saw a drop in our...but it's kind of like, because it's happening a little bit. But I think it's one of those things man, because we do come out and battle and battle and battle. I think it kind of gets tiring to say we just need that one hit, just need to make it happen more than just wait for it to happen.”

2. Erick Fedde delivered about the best the Nationals could hope for: five innings, one run, four hits, one walk, one strikeout.

He threw 61 pitches, then was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth.

Fedde last started April 23 for Harrisburg. After that, he joined the Nationals as a stop-gap reliever, which convinced them to turn him into a full-time reliever this season. He hopped into the rotation for injured Anibal Sanchez to start Tuesday.

The night was all about sinkers for Fedde. Thirty-one of his 61 pitches were sinkers.

Fedde is likely to make another start because the Nationals placed Jeremy Hellickson on the 10-day injured list Tuesday (more on that below). When Hellickson returns, they will have to decide who to keep in the struggling back end of the rotation.

“He looked really good,” Martinez said. “He threw groundballs, groundballs. If he keeps pitching like that, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ve got to build him back up, obviously. But he did really well.”

3. Though it’s a low bar, things are improving for Brian Dozier.

He hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning to provide the Nationals a temporary lead and chase New York starter Zack Wheeler. Dozier was 5-for-12 coming into the game before his homer.

Again, this is a low bar. But for a player hitting .208, any progress is of note.

4. Trevor Rosenthal threw an inning of relief Tuesday for Double-A Harrisburg. Rosenthal walked two, threw a wild pitch, gave up a run and of his 24 pitches, just 10 were strikes.

He was though to be nearing a return to the parent club, possibly by the end of the week. The question now is if the Nationals think he needs more time.

5. Hellickson was placed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday because of a right shoulder strain. Yet, he was in center field playing long toss in the middle of the afternoon.

Hellickson said he felt discomfort in his shoulder since spring training. That prompts two questions: Why not say something prior? And, why play long toss after being placed on the injured list because of an achy shoulder?

To the first question, why now:

“Just cause it hasn’t gotten better,” Hellickson said. “We’ve been treating it every day, it hasn’t gotten better. We’ll see what rest does.”

And?

“Just [a] shoulder strain. It feels good when I’m out there. It just doesn’t feel great in between starts. I’m not waking up too good. Like I said, it’s not getting worse, but it’s not getting better. So I’m just going to rest it for a little bit.”

To the second question, why play long toss:

“That feels good,” Hellickson said. “It’s just taking a start off to give it some rest, and not that big workload on a start day. I can take one of those off. It’s just on and off. It feels good one day, not so good the next. So give it some rest and hopefully get back to 100 percent.”

Another question: Has this affected your pitching and contributed to the 6.23 ERA?

“I felt good when I was out there,” Hellickson said. “It maybe affected my command a little bit. But I felt fine. I felt fine when I was out there. I don’t think it affected too much.”

So, the discomfort has been around since spring, has not gotten better, but feels fine when he pitches and throws long-toss but feels bad in between starts, yet hasn’t influenced his outcomes.

Kyle McGowin is a possibility to replace Hellickson in the rotation while he is on the injured list.

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