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Mike Morse, an inside-the-park grand slam, and a reasonably well-played Nationals game

At 6-5, 230 pounds, Mike Morse can sometimes be exactly the slugger he looks like. He launched his second home run of the spring Sunday, a three-run missile that sailed over the left-center fence on a line. In his next at-bat, Morse drove a long fly to the warning track in center.

In 15 at-bats this spring, Morse has two home runs and a double. Capable of playing four positions, Morse is continued his push to make the Nationals bench. Manager Jim Riggleman said his hot start owes to his offseason work ethic.

"Mike is always ready to play," Riggleman said. "Mike took about 10 days or two weeks off after the season last year. He started hitting in October, and he's never stopped hitting. He's a year-round guy, looking for somebody to throw him batting practice, take swings. He's dedicated to his profession. He's in mid-season form."

Morse, 27, feels more at ease now than at any other spring camp of his career. He attributed some of his success to his relaxed mindset.

"I've gotten older now," Morse said. "I've got to play my game. I can't worry about things. With that mentality, it makes things flow better. [Making the team] is the last thing I'm thinking about these days. I'm going out to try and fun and try to let my talent come out."

Morse hit the game's normal home run, and the other requires some explaining. In the second inning, Jason Marquis loaded the bases on three walks and a single - he later said he was "guiding" the ball too much. Up came Omir Santos, who ripped a grounder down the third-base line and into the corner.

Willy Taveras tracked down the ball and saw it was lodged under the fence. He raised his hand, and third base umpire Paul Nauert raised his before ambling out to inspect. When Nauert did not rule the play dead, Taveras tried to rip the ball loose. By the time he did, Santos had wheeled around the bases. Taveras was left to shrug in the outfield. He believed Nauert had not run to the outfield quickly enough to make the proper, which forced him to try prying it out.

"If that happened during the season, somebody is going to get thrown out the game," Taveras said. "I raised my hand, and he didn't even run over there. The ball got stuck and I raised my hand. He didn't run over there. He's supposed to run over there."

Marquis got charged with giving up a grand slam on a groundball, something he's never done before. "I don't think so other than Little League, maybe," he said.

That play was a little odd, to say the least, and the Nationals lost again. But this game felt a lot different than their first four, when they allowed at least 10 runs in each. Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, Drew Storen and Ron Villone combined to allow no runs on two hits in five innings. The Nationals pounded 11 hits. They ran the bases well and hard. They made no errors.

"We played a good ballgame," Riggleman said. "I'll take that ballgame right there. In season, we won't take it, because you lost. For where we're at here in spring training, I'll take that ballgame."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 7, 2010; 5:38 PM ET
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Looks like there are plenty of hitters ... hopefully there is a looming trade to help this club with desperately needed pitching.

Posted by: periculum | March 7, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

peric - I agree, a trade for an MLB legit SP would be nice, but I think for budget reasons, the FO is set on waiting and seeing what June brings with Wang, Strasburg and Detwiler, then Zimmermann beyond that.
They have always shown more patience than your average Nats fan.

Seems to me like Morse was penciled in for a bench spot before ST started, and he's solidifying the hold on it.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 7, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

Morse should be given a chance to compete for RF.

Posted by: swanni | March 7, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Even though they haven't notched a ST W as of yet, I feel better about this team than in years past. The madness of March means nothing other than getting your work in and preparing for April. I don't expect any miracles this season, but I do expect improved play and somewhere around 70 to 75 wins. They do that and I for one will take it with a smile.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 7, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

I think you need a stronger fielder in right field. That would be Dukes, Bernadina, and Maxwell.

If they play well and make it hard for the FO to cut them from the 25 hopefully some trade opportunities will open up. They need more pitching ... even in the minors.

Posted by: periculum | March 7, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

It is hard to see another team giving up a legit MLB starting pitcher for what the Nats currently have to offer... it sure would be nice, but probably not going to happen with back-up OFs being the return for the other team...

On the other hand, I would love for them to find somebody to take Guzman off of their hands for a player of worth, even if the Nats have to eat a good chunk of his contract... it would be much more enjoyable (hopefully) watching Desmond develop into a MLB shortstop... then another year of OBP percentage barely over .300, no power, no speed, and degrading defense from the 8 million dollar SS...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 7, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Other than what happened to Marquis, everyone else pitched well, and I was especially happy to see what Matt Chico did...

Posted by: bromisky | March 7, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Sorry dukes is not a good defensive RF; too often he loses focus.

Posted by: swanni | March 7, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Morse does have a chance to win the RF spot, but he's not close to doing so based on a couple of good spring games. Nothing in his MLB experience suggests that he will be able to sustain starting productivity.

As for Dukes, he has good range and a decent arm. He does lose focus, but he is better than the fan critics give him credit for.

Posted by: natbiscuits | March 7, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Dukes, unfortunately, is still all about upside and potential. And RF will be his for at least a couple months so the FO can try once more to figure out whether he's for real or whether they need to move on.

Dukes is actually younger than Maxwell, Bernadina and Morse. Here's hoping for some significant improvement in the field, at the plate and on the bases.

I'm rooting for Dukes, but I wouldn't wager anything on him still being in an MLB uniform three years from now.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 7, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

More on Dukes.
How does a guy go from stealing 13 and getting caught only 4 times, to the next year stealing 3 and getting thrown out 10 times?
How is that possible?

Posted by: Sunderland | March 7, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

My guess, Sunderland, would be injuries, lost confidence, or over-confidence and ill-advised hold signs contributing to him getting picked off.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 7, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

I ran into Pudge last night. He begged to know how to bail on his Nats contract.

Posted by: 1stBaseCoach | March 8, 2010 12:44 AM | Report abuse

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