It’s safe to say Michael Morse is a hit after his first week of games at AT&T Park. His third-time-around walk-up music has Giants fans reaching for the high notes in A-ha’s 1985 hit “Take On Me.” His .350 batting average and co-team-leading 10 RBIs entering Tuesday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers haven’t hurt, either.
For the latter, the latest Giant to patrol left field at AT&T Park partly credits some advice imparted to him by the first. Barry Bonds wasn’t with the Giants long this spring, joining them in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a week as a special hitting instructor. But his words resonated with Morse, who at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds packs plenty of power.
“I’m just trying to keep the ball up the middle, trying to get a good pitch to hit and not do too much,” Morse said. “That’s one thing Barry told me in spring training. He said, ‘Take your hits, and the home runs will come. Don’t think about that.’
“There’s a lot of times we as players, we hit a good ball and just miss a home run and be mad. But he’d be like, ‘Just be happy you hit it good.’ ”
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Case in point: Against Arizona on Thursday, when Morse hit a ball an estimated 410 feet to right-center, only to have it ricochet off the brick wall at AT&T for a double. At most parks in America, it would have been Morse’s third home run of the season. As it was, the double scored two runs and gave the Giants a lead – with Morse breaking into a martial arts-type kick for emphasis as he rounded second.
Plus, the previous night Morse – who this spring said he felt he could still hit for power in his new park – showed there are drives AT&T won’t swallow, when he hit a ball halfway up the bleachers in left field off Bronson Arroyo that was estimated at 449 feet.
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So far, Morse has been every bit the offensive upgrade the Giants hoped for when they signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal to be their everyday left fielder. That wasn’t a guarantee, as Morse had wrist surgery over the winter and batted .215 last year in his second consecutive injury-shortened season.
But his 1.009 OPS entering Tuesday was highest among Giants regulars and ranked 10th in the National League, his quirky enthusiasm has been well-received and his defense in left – which some feared would be a liability – has been solid if not spectacular.
Giants left fielders combined to record a .651 OPS and just five home runs in 2013. Morse, for whom manager Bruce Bochy lobbied the front office, has helped lengthen a lineup that entered Tuesday as the third-highest-scoring in the N.L. behind Colorado and Washington.
“He’s really done all that we thought he could do for us,” Bochy said. “And he’s healthy. This guy’s always been a threat, and I know he’s excited by the fact he’s healthy and doesn’t feel the wrist at all swinging the bat.”
Morse said he feels he fit in quickly with a Giants team that has “really good chemistry.” Fans have clearly embraced the long-locked slugger, most notably with their response to the ’80s track that accompanies his third at-bat.
“Every day it gets more and more (involved),” Morse said. “Pretty cool little bond I’m getting with the fans.”
Speaking of bonds, Morse said a certain instructor’s advice hit home for him this spring because “I feel like I get him.” Morse said he picked Bonds’ brain about hitting and playing defense at AT&T Park, where wind and especially sun angles during day games can be tough in left field.
Morse summed up Bonds’ defensive message as: “Keep it simple. You’ve got all of those elements, but it’s only as hard as you make it.” Morse also relished the opportunity to talk hitting with “one of my favorite hitters growing up.”
Morse said what struck him most about Bonds as a hitter was Bonds “never let the pitcher take him out of his game plan.” He said he sees the same thing from catcher Buster Posey and is trying to emulate that measured approach.
“What happens as a player, you hit a home run, now you’re feeling great, now you might take yourself out of your game plan,” said Morse, who hit 31 homers for Washington in 2011. “So anytime I feel like I’m feeling really good, I calm down a little bit. I pull back the reins a little.
“I still feel like if you get a good pitch to hit and you hit it well, the ball’s going to leave the park,” he added. “And the worst thing that could happen is it hits off the wall.”