morse06012012

Who Should Roam The Nationals Outfield When Morse Returns?

Michael Morse is on schedule to return to the Nationals in the next week, which is obviously great news. The Nats are in the bottom half of the league in runs, batting average, on-base, and slugging, and Morse led the team in all four of those categories last season. But in order to get him back in the lineup, someone has to lose his job, and the answer is obvious.

The semi-regular outfield for Davey Johson’s Nationals has been Steve Lombardozzi in left, Rick Ankiel in center, and Bryce Harper in right. This obviously gets tweaked from time-to-time for match ups, but these three have pretty much solidified their spots at this point. On that list, the one guy who obviously isn’t hitting the bench is Bryce Harper.

Harper is definitely a contender for NL Rookie of the Year this season, and it’s not just hype. This kid is good. While his outfield defense is still a work in progress, he has a lot of speed, which can be harnessed into range with more experience. Whatever defensive question marks he raises are completely moot when you consider his bat.

At just 19 years old, Harper is batting .274, getting on base at a .357 clip with an impressive .861 OPS. If you evaluate him more recently, after he got a bit more comfortable, the numbers just jump off the page. In his last 17 games, he’s hitting .318 with an insane 1.013 OPS. In the last 10 games, it’s a .359/.432/.667 slash line. There’s no way he gets pulled from the lineup.

Then, there’s Steve Lombardozzi. Davey Johnson indicated that Lombardozzi will be his lead off hitter, so now they just have to find a spot for him. Since the manager is sticking with Danny Espinosa at second base, for now, Lombo will have to find somewhere to hang out in the outfield. Otherwise, the Nats will lack a viable lead off hitter, so his spot is safe.

That leaves Rick Ankiel as the odd man out, which is exactly where he should have been all along. Ankiel is a great option for the Nats as a fourth or fifth outfieldier, but he’s not a player that you want in the lineup every day if you want to contend. He is a great defensive replacement in the late innings, but he strikes out way too much and doesn’t get on base much. He has 43 strikeouts and just 9 walks this year.

With Ankiel joining the Goon Squad, I envision a lineup of Lombardozzi in left, Harper in center, and Morse in right. Morse knows right field. He played it with the Nats in 2009 and 2010, while Harper is the only real option for center. Lombardozzi is a middle infielder by trade, and as such, his arm strength doesn’t allow him to be anywhere but in left.

It’s certainly not your strongest defensive outfield, but the Nats will certainly trade in a little bit of defense for a whole lot of pop and high on-base guys. The Nats pitchers strike out enough batters that it shouldn’t have a drastic affect on them, while having three solid MLB hitters in the regular lineup could be what the team needs to finally pull away in the competitive NL East. When you look at the lineup, it’s hard to not get really excited for Michael Morse’s return.

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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