Morse setting the beat for Nationals

Morse setting the beat for Nationals

SAN DIEGO -- Before games, first baseman Michael Morse is the Nationals' DJ in the clubhouse.

The music ranges from hip hop to country. When he doesn't play music, some of his teammates will approach him and say, "Hey, Mike, put something on." Morse plays music to bring a positive atmosphere around the team.

"Being the DJ tends to be my job," Morse said. "It loosens guys up. The next thing you know, we are ready to play a game."

Morse, 29, is more than just a DJ. It's safe to say he is Washington's best hitter. Entering Tuesday's game against the Cardinals, the right-handed-hitting Morse is hitting .300 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs. He leads the Nationals in all three categories. In his last 33 games, Morse has been on a hitting tear, going 39-for-109 (.358) with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.

"First, I like hitting with men on base," Morse said. "I feel I can contribute a lot to this team. It's being comfortable. I'm getting an opportunity to play."

There was a time this season when Morse wasn't getting a chance to play. He began the season as the Opening Day left fielder, but after a slow start and some health issues, manager Jim Riggleman decided to give Laynce Nix most of the playing time. By the beginning of May, Morse was getting starts only against left-handers, and that was sparingly.

"I just keep telling myself, 'I'm going to out there and I'm going to get three hits. I'm going to drive in runs. I'm better than this pitcher. There is no reason that this guy should get me out.' I think having that mentality is helping me a lot ..."
-- Michael Morse

Morse now says he put too much pressure on himself to be the player that earned the left-field job during Spring Training. It was during the exhibition season in which he led the team in home runs (nine) and RBIs (18).

"I think early this year, I was pressing," Morse said. "I was trying to get five hits in one at-bat. That never works. I felt in Spring Training that I was ready to play every day.

"When you have a good Spring Training like that, it's sometimes not a good idea, because right when the season starts, the numbers are reset. I never had an Opening Day start. I did put pressure on myself."

Morse's confidence was at an all-time low by early May. It was obvious to hitting coach Rick Eckstein that Morse was not the hitter he remembered from last year.

"As I watched him go through his at-bats, it wasn't the Mike Morse that I know," Eckstein said. "He would have a nice day here and there, but there was no consistency there. And then it kind of manifested itself to the point where I had a real good indication what he needed."

That was a stern lecture on hitting. One day after grounding out, Morse went into the dugout, his head was down. He then went into the video room near the Nationals' dugout to see what he was doing wrong at the plate.

Eckstein followed Morse into the computer room. Eckstein was not happy that Morse didn't have a plan on what to do at the plate against the opposing pitcher. Eckstein said, "You are a good hitter. You are better than [the opposing pitcher]. Until you believe in yourself, nobody is going to believe in you."

"You could see in the way he said it, that he really meant it," Morse said about Eckstein's talk. "The way he was looking at me in the eye, I just told myself, 'I'm better than this. I'm better than this groundout.' I started taking the at-bats more seriously. I told myself, 'Don't waste at-bats.' He made me believe in myself."

As it turned out, Morse listened to every word Eckstein said. Morse would be back on the field on a regular basis by late May, at first base after Adam LaRoche was put on the disabled list because of a serious shoulder injury. Morse took advantage of the situation and now finds himself as the team's leading hitter, not to mention being an above-average defensive first baseman.

"It felt good to get that opportunity again, to come out and play every day and knowing you are going to be in the lineup," Morse said. "I just keep telling myself, 'I'm going to out there and I'm going to get three hits. I'm going to drive in runs. I'm better than this pitcher. There is no reason that this guy should get me out.' I think having that mentality is helping me a lot, and that's from talking to Rick and coaching me in that mental way."

With Morse as the team's leading hitter, will it earn him a chance to make the All-Star team this year? That would be music to his ears.

"I think that it would be one of the biggest accomplishments that I could ever achieve in this game, besides winning the World Series and going to the playoffs," Morse said. "Being able to get consistent playing time right now, words can't describe what it would mean to make the All-Star team."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.