By Jose M. Romero Associated Press
PEORIA, Ariz. — To be clear, it’s Michael, not Mike Morse. That’s one of the things that has changed since the last time Morse was a member of the Seattle Mariners more than three years ago.
And there’s more.
His annual income went from the $407,000 he was making when he was traded from the Mariners to the Washington Nationals in June 2009 to the $6.75 million in base salary he’ll make in 2013.
Morse is also bigger, some 30 pounds bulkier. He has found a position, corner outfield, after being a utility player in his first go-round with the Mariners. He’s in the starting nine and is expected to be a major key to improving a Mariners offense that struggled with production in 2012. And he’s picked up a nickname, “Beast.”
One more thing.
“I’ve got long hair,” Morse said.
The day Morse arrived for spring training, he looked around and realized he got there too early for his physical. That gave him time to point out all of the different locker stalls in the clubhouse he used in his nine previous spring trainings with the Mariners.
The one he occupies now belonged to ex-Mariner great Ichiro Suzuki.
Morse showed plenty of potential, but injuries and too much depth at various positions kept him from finding a regular place on Seattle’s major-league roster the first time around. There was knee surgery in 2006 and a broken wrist bone in 2007. In 2008, Morse made the opening day roster for the first time after a huge spring training at the plate. But a torn labrum in his left shoulder that required surgery ended his season.
He was dealt away for outfielder Ryan Langerhans during the 2009 season.
“When I left, I wasn’t really playing,” Morse said. “In Washington they gave me an opportunity to play every day and let my talent come out.”
The trade to Washington was just what Morse needed to boost his career. After moderate success in 98 games in 2010, Morse led the Nats in batting average (.303), home runs (31) and RBI (95) in 2011, the result of being healthy for an entire season.
A strained knee cost him the first couple of months of 2012, but when Morse came back he hit .291 with 18 homers and 62 RBI in 102 games. He also added five hits, including a home run, in the National League Division Series.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of in baseball,” Morse said of the postseason. “Now I got that taste in my mouth and I want to get back.”
A three-team trade brought Morse back to the Mariners last month.
“A lot of guys wouldn’t get an opportunity to come back to the team they started out with. I guess I’m one of the fortunate ones,” he said. “I went away, found myself, came back, now I’m ready to help this team and this organization become a championship ball club.”
Morse figures to bat in the middle of the Mariners’ order and hopes to unleash plenty of the kinds of longballs he’s hit at spring training in batting practice.
“I was in the same spot in D.C., I was batting fourth or fifth,” Morse said. “I’m comfortable there and I’m happy to come back here and do the same thing.”
Comfortable, to say the least. Morse is gregarious with teammates in the clubhouse and tweeted out a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt that reads “I (heart) Japanese Pitching.”
“From what I can see early on here, he cares about his teammates and he is a good teammate,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He enjoys the game and has fun playing the game, but yet when it’s time to work, he works. It’s serious to him. He’s experienced a lot in a short period of time, for a guy that’s five years into his big-league career. All that bodes well for him and for us.”