Morse is starting to get it right
The Nationals have been waiting all season for slugger Michael Morse to return from a strained lat muscle and help anchor their lineup again. But as his first week back proved, it's not as simple as just slipping back into the batter's box.
Morse is at his best when his swing is powering the ball to right-center field. That wasn't happening in his first two games last weekend against Atlanta. He grounded out or lined out to shortstop five times in his first eight at-bats. But in the ensuing series against the Mets, Morse recorded five hits, and all were to the right side, including two doubles.
"I have to really focus on right-center. That's my power. That's where I usually hit," Morse said. "So after I hit that first one there it felt normal. It felt right. It kind of clicked a little bit."
He still grounded into a double play at short in that New York series and on Thursday pulled the ball there into a fielder's choice with runners at first and second and no outs in the seventh inning with the Nationals down 3-0. But a pair of hard-earned walks encouraged him, too. Morse will focus exclusively on his hitting this weekend, serving as the designated hitter during an interleague series in Boston.
- Brian McNally
1 The Associated Press reported this week that MLB and the players association changed the language in their drug-testing agreement to prevent a repeat of Ryan Braun's suspension overthrow by an arbiter. The reigning NL MVP tested positive for a banned substance last fall. But because a courier didn't follow explicit protocol in the drug-testing agreement, Braun's 50-game suspension was thrown out. Unable to get to a FedEx facility before it closed after a Saturday test, the courier kept Braun's urine sample at his home and sent it in Monday. The new agreement allows for extenuating circumstances.
2 The White Sox weren't expected to be contenders this season. They looked like an aging team, lost pitcher Mark Buehrle to free agency and were coming off a second losing season in three years. Yet entering an interleague series against the rival Cubs this weekend, the White Sox were the only AL Central team even close to a positive run differential (plus-28 entering Saturday). And as the Tigers scuffle, it's clear Chicago has a legitimate shot at the postseason. The middle of the order isn't young, but it is powerful with a resurgent Adam Dunn and a dominant start from the ageless Paul Konerko.
3 Sometimes it's hard to determine who will be selling assets this far from the trade deadline. But with seven weeks to go, there are a handful of obvious candidates. The Minnesota Twins are cooked. Injuries were an issue last year, but things haven't gotten better. They entered Saturday with a .404 winning percentage -- after a hot streak. That may put center fielder Denard Span back in play. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres are baseball's only sub-.400 teams. Full rebuilds are underway in both cities, though the Cubs (Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano) have more veterans to offer.
- Brian McNally
1. Mark Trumbo » The outfielder entered Saturday hitting .330 and is trying to keep the Angels afloat in the AL West.
2. Yadier Molina » The Cardinals catcher has never had an OPS above .814 but was at .919 as of Saturday.
3. Josh Willingham » Healthy again, the former Nats player is on pace for a career year with Minnesota at 33.
1. Mat Latos » The Reds hoped they were getting an ace, but he has a 4.85 ERA after 12 starts.
2. Albert Pujols »
After a strong end to May, Pujols' numbers in June make him look like a shortstop with pop.
3. Jake Arrieta »
Arrieta ranks 113th out of 115 qualified starting pitchers in ERA and was demoted to the bullpen.