Somewhere back home, packed tightly inside bins in his mother’s garage, Michael Morse says he may have the entire collection of giveaways from the Marlins’ 1993 inaugural season.
“Absolutely I’ve got it all,” said Morse, who grew up playing at Central Park in Plantation, travel ball for the Boca Bandits and graduated from Davie Nova High.
“I have the whole set of baseball cards, the baseballs, the inaugural program. I have the towels, the pins. My mom actually came to a spring training game the other day and had the inaugural Marlins bag. I was like, ‘Come on, Mom, that thing might fall apart.’ ”
To say Morse is happy to be back home playing for the team he grew up rooting for would be grossly underplaying it. The 11-year-old kid who chased Chuck Carr and Charlie Hough down to get autographs on his teal Marlins hat turned 33 last Sunday. But he’s no less a fan of the Fish than he was back then.
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Only now, he’s being counted on to provide some much-needed protection for Giancarlo Stanton and pop from the cleanup spot in the Marlins lineup.
Morse, signed to a two-year, $16 million deal back in December and fresh off playing a hero’s role for the World Series-winning Giants, has looked the part this spring. He leads the team in homers (four) and RBI (14) and is fitting in nicely in the clubhouse.
The key now for Morse, as always, will be keeping his 6-5, 245-pound frame off the disabled list. Morse has missed substantial time with injuries throughout his career, including ailments involving his knee (July 2006), shoulder (he missed all but five games in 2008 with a torn labrum), back (he missed the first two months of 2012), quadriceps (parts of 2013) and oblique (September 2014).
Playing first base (he’s made 379 of his 518 starts in the outfield) this season, Morse said, should save his legs from the wear and tear of running in the outfield and help his overall health.
“I’m like a Christmas ornament,” Morse said, trying to make light of his injury history. “I’m a delicate player, but I know what I can do when I’m healthy. That’s never been an issue with me. The issue with me is staying on the field. I’ve had some pretty weird injuries, and I’ve had some stuff that was misfortunate. But I feel like when I’m on the field I can produce with the best of them.”
His 2011 season with the Washington Nationals is proof. After leading the Grapefruit League with nine homers and 18 RBI, Morse had his best season in the majors. He hit .303 (ninth in NL), belted 31 homers (ninth most in the NL), slugged .550 (fourth in the NL) and drove in 95 runs (10th in the NL) in a career-high 146 games played.
Coincidentally, Morse made a career-high 82 starts at first base in 2011. In his career, Morse is a .322 hitter as a first baseman compared with .267 as an outfielder.
“Having those two big guys in the middle of that order, I know as a pitcher, it can be kind of intimidating,” manager Mike Redmond said of having Stanton and Morse hit back-to-back in the middle of the Marlins order.
The Marlins were happy with the job Casey McGehee did last year in the cleanup spot. He ranked seventh in baseball with 51 hits with runners in scoring position (.319 average). But he also bounced into a MLB-leading 31 double plays and hit just four homers on the season — as many as Morse has in 13 games this spring.
Marlins analyst Carl Pavano said Morse’s power presence, right after Stanton, will put stress on opposing pitchers that teams didn’t have to face last year.
“It’s a great presence,” said Stanton, who has seen the Marlins go through 14 different cleanup hitters over the past three years since he was moved into the three-hole. “[Morse] brings good flow to the locker room and to the field.”
Tuesday, as the Marlins backups mounted a 9-4 come-from-behind win over the Red Sox with an eight-run eighth inning, Morse was busy in the Marlins clubhouse signing baseballs for future Marlins giveaways.
“This is my home,” Morse said. “I get to play for my hometown and to me it’s a dream come true. It’s something I’m taking very serious. I want to play my best. I would love to finish my career as a Miami Marlin, for sure. Hopefully, it’s not on this two-year contract, but longer.”
▪ With a week to go in Grapefruit League action the number of players inside the Marlins clubhouse continues to dwindle. It’s now at 37.
Hard throwing right-handed reliever Carter Capps, whom the Marlins traded Logan Morrison for before the start of the 2014 season, was among seven players sent down to the minors Tuesday. The other six were not on the 40-man roster: catcher Vinny Rottino, infielder Austin Nola, left-handers Pat Misch and Pat Urckfitz, and right-handers Ryan Chaffee and Vin Mazzaro.
Capps, though, was among a group of about seven relievers competing for the last two bullpen spots. He has had a rough spring (9.64 ERA, four walks, six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings). Said Redmond: “He needs to be more consistent with his command, and when that happens, he’ll be ready.”