Though he's been targeting a June 8 return for some time, injured left fielder Michael Morse believes he could actually rejoin the Nationals sooner than that, perhaps during their next homestand.
Morse, out since spring training with a torn right lat muscle, has begun swinging a bat and playing catch for the first time since he was shut down during the first week of April after experiencing a setback while on a rehab assignment with Class A Hagerstown.
The Nationals have targeted the June 8 date as a likely return because it would allow Morse to ease his way back by serving as designated hitter for interleague series in Boston and Toronto.
Morse, though, told manager Davey Johnson this week he believes he could be ready when the Nationals open a six-game homestand on June 1 against the Braves.
"That was my day June 8," Johnson said. "I threw that out there trying to give the trainers and the doctors a date that I wanted him back swinging, because he could DH against the American League clubs on the eighth. We'd been set for that for about three weeks, and he came to me and said: 'When you come off the road trip, I'll be ready.' But he's feeling his oats."
Before the Nationals let Morse return that soon, they'll have to be convinced his injury is completely healed -- at last check, doctors said the tear was 80 percent healed -- and see evidence of him both hitting and throwing in rehab games.
Morse intends to go to extended spring training in Viera, Fla., next week while the Nationals are on the road. If things progress well there, he could go play for one of their minor-league affiliates around Memorial Day.
"He looks strong," Johnson said. "I've been in the workout room when he's working out, and he's doing things that you can't do when you're hurt. He's lifting things and doing things. He's in good shape. I'm not worried about him running around the outfield, because he's been doing a lot of aerobics and stuff like that and his legs are in great shape. As big and strong as he is, the doctors tell him he can go, and they're expanding and letting him do pretty much everything right now. So I don't think it's going to take much time."