Middle of Nats order beginning to sizzle

Middle of Nats order beginning to sizzle

WASHINGTON -- As the summer heats up in Washington, so too has the heart of the Nationals lineup. With sluggers Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman rounding into form, the National League East leaders are starting to feel like themselves again.

"[Morse is] starting to get going now. He had his week or two when he was coming up and pretty much rehabbing in the big leagues, which is not easy to do. And I've been a lot better lately," Zimmerman said. "We're healthier, we're getting more consistent. The more you can throw out the same lineup, the more consistent you can be."

Morse, who missed the first two months of the season with a strained lat muscle, has returned and raised his batting average from .215 on June 24 to .287. He briefly eclipsed .300 during this past weekend's series against the Braves.

"When the middle of the lineup starts swinging the bat like it's capable of doing, the rest of the guys are starting to jell and that really just puts the icing on the cake," manager Davey Johnson said. "It takes the pressure off everybody [in] the lineup and everybody can trust each other in the lineup. They don't have to do too much."

It's allowed Johnson to write out his lineup card more consistently, slotting Morse into the cleanup spot against both left- and right-handers -- while allowing the rest of the batting order to settle in.

The Nationals have scored just under 8 1/2 runs per contest over their last seven games. Zimmerman has a hit in eight of his last nine, and five multi-hit contests over that span.

"We're getting on at the top of the order, and the guys like Zim and Morse are coming up with guys on base and delivering," utility man Steve Lombardozzi said.