Mike Morse, power and puzzle

This is my Wednesday column on Mike Morse. WARNING: This is a Giants column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Former Giant Mark DeRosa pressed his thumb into the back of current Giant Mike Morse’s left wrist and Morse almost levitated.

DeRosa was a Giant in 2010 and 2011. He hit just one home run during that time because he had an injured wrist no one could fix. Morse became a Giant this offseason. He hit .215 last season in 88 games with the Mariners and Orioles because he had an injured wrist no one could fix. Some trainers didn’t believe his wrist actually was injured.

DeRosa and Morse played together on the Nationals in 2012, so that’s how they know each other. This offseason, Morse couldn’t even bend his wrist. “I couldn’t do a pushup,” Morse told me in the Giants’ spring training clubhouse Wednesday morning.

“I talked to D-Ro about it,” Morse said. D-Ro is DeRosa. “I knew he had a messed-up wrist for a while. I asked him where it hurt. I remember he touched my wrist in the spot where his wrist had hurt, and I went, ‘Ahhhh!’ It was tender. Luckily for me, it wasn’t that severe.”

Luckily for the Giants, Morse knew DeRosa and DeRosa knew which spot to press. He pressed on a bone spur. Morse had surgery to remove it last October.

It’s hard to imagine Morse shrieking or levitating in pain. He is huge, a Giant, the most Giant of the Giants. He looks like a tight end. He looks like Brandon Crawford’s older brother. You don’t have to know anything about baseball to understand why the Giants signed Morse. You can see he is built to crush baseballs. He is supposed to be the first power-hitting left fielder the Giants have had since Barry Bonds retired.

Morse has a powerful track record. In 2011, he hit .303 and slugged 31 home runs. He was the 35th-best hitter in baseball according to “advanced stats.” And according to those same advanced stats, only one Giant was a better hitter than Morse in 2011 – Pablo Sandoval.

2011 was Morse’s only dominant season. Since then, he hasn’t stayed healthy. In 2012, he played just 102 games, and in 2013 he played even fewer – 88.

The Giants need a full season from Morse. They need him healthy and powerful.

Is his wrist finally healthy?

“It feels 100 percent,” said Morse. “It’s something I don’t even worry about.”

Has he regained his power?

“Yeah, absolutely. I feel great.”

Morse stood up, put on big, black headphones and walked to the dugout for batting practice. I walked to the press box to watch him hit.

When I got to my seat, I saw Morse standing next to the batting cage at home plate watching Angel Pagan take BP. Pagan hit home run after home run, the switch hitter blasting big shots to left and right field. Morse practiced his swing and timed the pitches.

Pagan finally stepped out of the batter’s box and Morse stepped in.

He crouched low into his batting stance and held his hands way out over the plate.

He took the first pitch. He swung at the second pitch and hit a grounder. He popped up the third pitch. Most of his hits did not leave the infield, and the ones that did were soft line drives to right field. Not what I expected from the right-handed power hitter. Bruce Bochy leaned forward against the back of the cage and stared at Morse. Morse walked away to practice his swing some more.

At that point, I was thinking I could hit better than Morse. I was thinking he must be delusional if he really believes his wrist is 100-percent healthy and his power has returned.

But then I thought: “Maybe he’s still warming up. Keep watching him.”

Morse stepped into the batter’s box for Round 2. He did not hit a single home run, not even a fly ball to left. But he hit fly balls to right center. And during Round 3, Morse hit a couple fly balls off the right-centerfield wall.

“OK, he’s a better hitter than I am,” I thought. “But is he choosing to hit to right field, or is he currently incapable of turning on a pitch and pulling it?”

Morse answered my question during Round 4.

He took the first pitch. He hit the second pitch about 430-feet to left-center field and the ball bounced off a brick bathroom. Two pitches later, he hit a ball about 430-feet to right-center field.

Morse left the cage. He took a half swing and held the pose, staring at his bat. Then he walked to the dugout, grabbed his glove and jogged to left field.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.


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