Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Mikey Mo"

The African Queen is casually chatting with Michael Morse in the home dugout at Nationals Park last Saturday afternoon. We've just finished an extended interview with Our Washington Nationals power hitting utility player.

Sohna says to Michael: You know on Nats320, we are really big on nicknames. Do you have one?

Michael Morse: Well, when I was little, they used to call me "Mikey Mo".

SBF: When were you ever little?

Michael: (laughing) Yeah, you got that right!! But you guys can call me whatever you want, as long as you are cheering.

"Mikey Mo" has battled for playing time all season long in Washington. By knocking the cover off the baseball in limited appearances, Michael Morse gained the attention of the fan base wanting to see him play more regularly. With Nyjer Morgan currently on the Disabled List, Morse has been Jim Riggleman's starting right fielder for most games. A situation that now finds Michael struggling a little bit at the plate--batting just .128 in the month of August. A predicament Our Manager says he always expects when younger players are thrust into the everyday lineup.

Jim Riggleman: Mike's trying to stay sharp. It’s just a matter of what everybody goes though. You get your at-bats and the league doesn’t know you yet. Then the league makes an adjustment, now you have got to make the adjustment. You saw last year when Ian Desmond joined us that first night--if the wind wasn’t blowing in--he could have had four home runs that night. He ended up hitting two doubles and a home run. Every ball he hit was a potential home run. He followed that up with more big games. But with the scouting and advanced scouting at this level of the game, people know how to pitch people and they make adjustments. They did different things with Ian and Ian is now making adjustment again as to what the league is doing to him. So Mike will go through the same thing.

Before Our Washington Nationals took on The Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on August 14th, Nats320 sat down with "Mikey Mo" to talk about his ever changing role on Jim Riggleman's team. In many respects, Michael Morse has forced the team's hand to play him more. And he understands the importance of making an impact.

With that, here is Nats320's conversation with "Mikey Mo".

Nats320: Let’s start with something more fun. Every time you hit a home run and cross home plate you slap both hands over your batting helmet ear flaps, why?

Morse: Jay Buhner used to do it with The Seattle Mariners. One time, Rick Griffin who is the trainer for The Mariners and I were looking through highlight tapes of Jay slapping his helmet. (chuckling) And it was like: ‘Man, I’ve never seen anyone do that before! Why did he do that?’ And Rick said: ‘He just did it, that was his thing.’ So, I said: ‘You know what, I am going to do that. I am going to do that too.’ That’s basically why, there is really no reason to it. It’s just something different.

Nats320: It’s also different from pointing up to the sky.

Morse: Everybody now points, or points to the stands, claps or something like that. By touching my helmet, I know I did this and let’s do it again.

Nats320: I think it has become known that you can flat out hit. The issue has been you’ve never been able to find a real position in the field. Do you think you are capable of doing that?

Morse: Absolutely. I have come this far in my game where I have learned every position. And it’s not just to become a better defensive person, it’s to become an everyday player. Well, on the teams that I have always been on, I’ve always had people in front of me. Whether that has been due to long-term contracts or they are just flat out all-stars. So I’ve learned to adapt to other positions where there is a spot for me to play because I know, eventually--the team--like when I was in Seattle, wanted my bat in their lineup. And here in Washington, I think they want my bat in their lineup too. So it gives them more of an opportunity to use it with me knowing all the different positions.

Nats320: Are you more comfortable in any one position?

Morse: If you had asked me that coming into spring training, I would have said I was comfortable in the infield. In the outfield, I can play it but I don’t know how good. Now, I feel awesome in the outfield. I love playing rightfield. I am getting to play there a lot. I am comfortable there. The hardest ball an outfielder can, pretty much, get is the line drive over his head. Well, I am comfortable with getting that ball now. And that is a big step in my learning of the outfield.

Nats320: How hard has it then been for you to sit and wait for an opportunity?

Morse: (nodding his head up and down) It’s tough, it really is. And it still is tough. But I try to think that I am an everyday player. Even if I am not in the lineup that day, I know I am going to be in the game at some point. I am always going to be ready. I stay ready and I am going to keep on fighting. I am not going to change a thing.

Nats320: We remember seeing you in spring training doing the catching drills. Randy Knorr was using the pitching machine to fire the ball at you. We asked you after why? And you responded--‘anything to make the team’.

Morse: My thing to me is that I know I can hit, just like you guys just said. You think I can hit, I know I can hit. At this level, you have to hit. And if I can hit, that is half the battle right there. Playing all the positions was something I just learned to do. I am comfortable with it all. It’s fun. It’s more exciting to me, it’s not something nerve racking. If they tell me to play 3rd base? ‘Alright!, I am going to try to make ESPN today.’ That’s how my mentality is.

Catching, earlier this year when Pudge’s back was hurt, the team didn’t have to run out and get a catcher right away. They told me if someone goes down, I would go in there. I was smiling!! And I wasn’t panicking because you know what--if I go back there (behind the plate), I going to try to throw a guy out--if he’s on first. I am going to try to do something. I want to be challenged. And I think it helps me be what I am right now--which is a bench player who is capable of coming in to play at any time in the game.

Nats320: We sometimes call you ‘The Man Without A Position’. If they do give you the right field position, would you be happy with that?

Morse: Absolutely. I definitely would. Like I said, I like right field. I like it a lot.

Nats320: But the more you play, the more the league knows you.

Morse: Yeah.

Nats320: And lately, it’s been a little bit of a struggle for you at the plate as the team returned from their last road trip.

Morse: Absolutely.

Nats320: So, how do you adjust now as pitchers and teams have adjusted to you.

Morse: That was my big thing last night (Friday, August 13th) in the game. It is a game of adjustments. There are always scouts watching you before their teams plays our team. And in this last series, they were just pounding me with off-speed pitches, nothing but curveballs, sliders, curveballs & sliders--back to back to back. I always try to keep my approach (at the plate) to looking middle/away. But in that situation, it wasn’t working. So yesterday, I said--you know what--I know what they are going to do. I’ve got to change my approach. I won’t let myself fail. You might get me today. You might get me tomorrow. But in the long run, I am going to get you. That’s my mentality. So yesterday, I knew they were going to come with a slider. The pitcher threw me a slider and I got a base hit rbi.

Nats320: Does that also mean you have to be much more selective at the plate?

Morse: Yes, but at the same time you don’t want to be too selective and not swing at a pitch that you can drive. That was one of the things Rick Eckstein was telling me. I was being a little too selective. And he said: ‘Michael, with your swing you can hit pitches that are a little off the plate. And you can hit them real hard.’ So narrowing things down is not necessarily what I need to do because sometimes you miss the good fastball. What I need to do is lay off the sliders and changeups that are balls, much easier said than done.

Nats320: You are also in a platoon situation where Roger Bernadina plays mostly against right handed pitchers and you left landed pitchers. We feel you can hit both, how about you?

Morse: I have been playing this game (professionally) since 2000. And I’ve probably faced more righties than lefties. Me personally, I think I hit righties better than lefties just because it helps me not open up (his hips). There are a couple of things at the plate that facing right handers actually helps me. But a lot of people read only what’s on paper, in the statistics. They go with percentages, the lefty-righty matchups. And I understand that completely, but I think I have showed them this year that my numbers are pretty much the same when it comes to lefty-righty comparisons.

Nats320: Going back to when you first got traded here for Ryan Langerhans, you were coming off a shoulder injury at that time and were playing in AAA ball for The Mariners. What was you initial reaction?

Morse: I was very excited. I was really excited because I had been in Seattle my entire Big League career but I was down in the Minor Leagues. I was playing really well, hitting .330, and they weren’t making any moves to put me up there. I felt that my time there was just not right. And when I got traded here, the first thing I did was ask--who is the manager? They told me Jim Riggleman. And it was like: ‘Wow! This is a blessing in disguise.’

Jim is a great guy. He knows me (from managing Seattle) and he knows what type of game I bring. So it was awesome to hear Jim Riggleman was here. That was the one person I really knew. It made me relax. I said to myself: ‘Ok, here we go. It’s a new opportunity, let’s do this.’

Nats320: Riggleman has faith in you since he was the bench coach and manager when you were in Seattle.

Morse: Yes. And he knew me. He saw me in spring training when I set a (Seattle) record by hitting something like .497 or .498--something crazy--and Jim was there. Knowing he was here in Washington, made me more confident in my abilities. You know what, these players (in D.C.) might not know me, but the manager knows me.

Nats320: And that allows you to be more comfortable with Jim that you can go talk to him about what is on your mind?

Morse: Oh yeah. I feel like this is where I belong. I like the team. I love the management. I love the fans. I LOVE THE CITY!! Everything feels so right and I feel so comfortable which makes the best of my abilities come out in the toughest situations. This team is different than most of the teams that I have been on because we are so close. Even though our record isn’t great and we are losing a lot of games, we still pull for each other and we are a good close-knit family.

With that final answer, Nats320's conversation with "Mikey Mo" concluded. With Josh Willingham now heading to the disabled list and possibly out for the remainder of the season, there is a distinct possibility Michael Morse will remain in Washington's lineup even after Nyjer Morgan returns from the DL. Another opportunity for Morse to prove he belongs in D.C. long-term.

Photo Credit--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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