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Posted at 12:14 PM ET, 03/12/2011

Michael Morse claiming Nationals' left field position, center remains open

By Adam Kilgore

After his breakout during last regular season and a scorching two weeks this spring training, Michael Morse has apparently seized the Nationals' starting left field spot. Manager Jim Riggleman said Morse is "winning" the competition for the position, and General Manager Mike Rizzo went even further.

"He's got an opportunity, and he's taken the bull by the horns," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "If opening day was tomorrow, he certainly would be our opening day left fielder."

Morse hit .289/.352/.519 with 15 home runs in 293 plate appearances last year, and this spring he has only validated the best season of what Morse called a "rollercoaster" career. Last night, Morse hit his fourth home run of the spring, going 2 for 2 to increase his spring totals to 12 for 25 (.480) with two doubles.

"Mike's winning the job," Riggleman said. "We want somebody to take over those positions. Mike is making a statement that, 'I'm the guy.' We welcome that. We're not looking to platoon. I'm just reacted to what I see. He's just played so well."

While Morse has grabbed the left field job, another spot in the Nationals outfield remains in flux. Nyjer Morgan entered spring as the favorite to play center field, but Rizzo said both Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel - two players who entered camp also competing in left - will also contend to start in center.

After saying Morse would start in left on a hypothetical opening day tomorrow, Rizzo took a question posed in the same manner in regard to Morgan in center.

"Well, opening is not tomorrow, so we don't have to make that decision," Rizzo said. "With Morse, I say that because Morse has separated himself from the rest of the pack. I would say neither of the three center fielders have separated themselves."

Of the three, Bernadina has performed the best this spring, hitting .304 with a home run and a triple. Morgan is 5 for 26 (.192) with a double, three walks and three steals while being caught stealing twice (once on a botched suicide squeeze). Ankiel has three hits in 23 at-bats, two home runs and a double.

Nationals officials have uniformly praised Morgan's approach this spring. Morgan has been working closely with outfield and baserunning coach Bo Porter. This morning at 8 a.m., with no one else around, Morgan and Porter worked on outfield drills at Space Coast Stadium.

"His attitude has been terrific," Rizzo said. "He's been upbeat, energetic. He's playing good defense in center field, running the ball down. He's really working on his at-bats. I've seen in the last couple of games, he's hitting more line drives and he's being a little more productive."

It seems as though Morse's emergence could provide more intense competition for Morgan. If Morse cements himself in left, both Bernadina and Ankiel could take playing time from Morgan in center field. Rizzo identifying Ankiel and Bernadina as candidates in the center field competition underscores this point.

By Adam Kilgore  | March 12, 2011; 12:14 PM ET
 
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