MLB: Morse finds his swing again

Mike Morse is hitting again, which is a relief to him and an intriguing possibility for the Seattle Mariners.

The 26-year-old utilityman, a 6-foot-4 shortstop while in the White Sox system, has left the outfield experiment behind, overcome a separated shoulder that cost him the ’08 season and is now playing a little first base in the Arizona Fall League.

“I’m having fun – this is my spring training,” Morse said Friday. “The more I hit, the more it comes back. What I’m learning is that after all this time, it’s not gone. I’m still a hitter.”

Morse made the team last spring by hitting close to .400 in the exhibition season, then platooning in the outfield. If the team had asked him to try catching, he’d have done it – that’s how badly he wanted to play.

As an outfielder, however, he was never comfortable. The effort was there, but he’d always been an infielder and it showed. In April he dove for a ball at Safeco Field and the next thing he knew he was having surgery.

He didn’t swing a bat again until late August, and didn’t face live pitching until last week.

Once he got in games again, Morse went at it with a plan.

“My first at-bat, I take until I have two strikes,” he said. “It helps me see more pitches, and I’m finding out I’m a pretty good two-strike hitter. I’m having good at-bats.”

And in the field?

“Richie Sexson had the same surgery I did, and he told me, ‘The first time you dive for a ball, you’re scared to death. Then it comes back to you and you’re fine,’” Morse said. “I’ve only started playing first base, I played three innings over there. But that’s the spot I’m concentrating on.”

In nine games, Morse is batting .265 with a couple of home runs, with nine hits in his last six games. He’s getting stronger.

“I’ll play here until the 15th, go home for three days and then head for Venezuela and winter ball,” Morse said. “I’m going to get about 150 at-bats down there and come home.”

One of the three players obtained in the Freddie Garcia trade of 2004, Morse could be a viable option at first base next spring. He’s more a gap hitter than a home run hitter, but that may change as he works on his swing and harnesses what amounts to a new body.

“I’ve always been strong, but the work I did the last six months was for a reason,” he said. “I’m stronger now.”In 102 big-league games over three seasons, Morse has had 291 at-bats and hit .302 with 17 doubles, three home runs and 37 RBI. That production hardly leaps out at scouts, but what does is his potential.

“This kid can hit,” one scout in Arizona said. “You let him play regularly, you might have a player on your hands. You can tell he just loves the game.”