SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Morse is looking to turn the page. That's the refrain he returns to, whenever asked about 2013.
After socking 49 home runs and driving in 157 runs in 2011 and 2012 for the Washington Nationals, Morse returned to the team that drafted him – the Seattle Mariners -- in 2013, and in 76 games, he hit just .226, slugged .381 and hit just 13 home runs.
He started out white-hot, hitting .293 over the first 11 games, with six home runs and nine RBIs, but then, his wrist began to bother him. He developed a bone protrusion in his wrist, which limited his mobility and dropped his trademark power to barely a spark.
From April 19 to the middle of June, his batting average was above .250 for a total of four days. At the end of May, Morse saw his average rise steadily, until the Mariners' series with the San Diego Padres.
"I was rounding third at home against the Padres," Morse recalls. "I missed most of July. I tried to play the rest of the month of June with a torn quad. It was tough. I look back at it, and it's something that I try to forget.
"I tore it a little bit, and I just tried to play through it again, and it got worse, worse, worse, but at the time, Justin Smoak was on the DL, so I thought it would be a benefit for the team if I didn't end up going on the DL at the same time, so I tried to play through it, and it just got worse and worse, and they ended up having to put some cortisone in there and take some of the bleeding out and go on the DL for a while."
Morse won't speculate whether the adjustments he made to his swing to cope with the wrist injury led to his torn quadriceps muscle, but whether it did or not, the numbers tell the story. He couldn't work out, he says, and at the end of August, he was hitting .226. After his hot start, he hit just seven more home runs and drove in just 18 more runs, striking out 68 times to 19 walks with a batting average of .215. He was placed on trade waivers and was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles, where he was even more anemic, hitting .103 in 12 games, with no home runs, no RBIs and seven strikeouts to one walk.
No wonder he wants to forget.
During his first spring training with the San Francisco Giants – who signed Morse to a $6 million, one-year deal in December – he hit .300, and despite not putting a single ball out of the yard, has impressed coaches and teammates alike.
"We're working his swing to where he wants to be, and he's a powerful guy," says San Francisco hitting coach Hensley Muelens. "Hopefully we can regain his form from 2011 and 2012 when he was in Washington. He's an interesting guy, very strong, and he's going to compliment Buster [Posey] and Panda (Pablo Sandoval) very well. He's working hard, asking a lot of good questions. He fits in very well with the guys. He's a hard-working guy, he's funny. We're happy to have him, if he can stay healthy."
Morse grew up in the Mariners organization, and in 2009, was part of the Pacific Coast League Pacific North Division champion Tacoma Rainiers with a player who has been nearly as constant a companion as his own shadow – Giants reserve catcher Guillermo Quiroz. In his youth, Morse idolized Alex Rodriguez, and in Tacoma, Morse was still holding on to the childhood dream of being an infielder. That has since changed, as the Giants signed him to take over the revolving door that has been left field. How is 2009 Mike Morse different from the 2014 vintage?
"Maturity, I believe," Quiroz says. "Experience. He looks bigger, body-wise. He's been working out a lot, I guess. Same guy, though: Humble, easy to talk to."
Bigger is an understatement. In 2009, Morse played at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. This spring, he measured in at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds of long, lean muscle.
Behind closed doors, the Giants have expressed desire for Morse to return to that 20-25-homer, 100-RBI form he enjoyed with the Nationals, but for Morse, it's all about staying within himself – something he didn't let himself do in Seattle.
"You know what's good about this team, is that I've just got to be me, do what I know how to do," Morse says. "When I play and have fun at the same time, I put up some good numbers. I'm just going to go out, have fun and try and play within my means. Those years, I didn't try to do anything spectacular. I just tried to play ball and help the team win. This is a team that's built for every aspect of the game, and it's a team that you just go out and play well. They don't expect you to do anything absolutely crazy, but if we all play well, we're a championship ball club."
He'll also be playing the outfield, and, lucky for him, another one of his childhood idols is helping him learn the treacherous terrain at AT&T Park: Barry Bonds.
Before Bonds arrived in camp, Morse expressed his excitement about working with the home run king.
"I've got so many questions for that guy," he said. "Head to toe, everything he does, I want to know why. He's an unbelievable player. He's one of my favorite players in this game, and I think it's going to be such an honor to be in the same clubhouse with him."
At least this spring, Morse had no misadventures in the outfield, not tallying a single error in 41.0 innings of work, before two miscues on Thursday night.
"We do a lot of stuff before games. We do a lot of wall drills," he smiles.
Morse took the field at AT&T for the first time as a member of the home team in the annual Bay Bridge Series against the Oakland Athletics, finally – and officially – turning the page.
"I got injured, and sometimes, when you have injuries, it sets you back," he says. "You try and change your approach to the game, because of an injury, so it is what it is. You turn a page and start over."
That's exactly what he's doing in San Francisco.
Morse Turns the Page
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