It’s one of the indelible moments of the Giants’ 2014 postseason: Michael Morse’s arms-raised, full-throated gallop around the bases following his pinch-hit home run that tied Game 5 of the National League Championship Series in the eighth inning, one inning before Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off homer clinched the pennant.
Those seconds seemed to capture all the buoyant energy Morse brought to his one season in San Francisco, where he came up to the music of A-ha, designed dugout celebrations with Hunter Pence and won over teammates and fans alike with his lumbering power and unflinching positivity.
Now rehabbing in the Giants’ minor-league system from the hamstring injury he suffered in spring training, Morse sees the major-league team struggling – at 6-12 through Saturday, owners of the worst record in the N.L. And he sees something missing.
“I think besides pressing and trying to do too much, you can tell they’re not really having fun,” Morse said Saturday night following a rehab appearance with Triple-A Sacramento. “That’s something in 2014 we really did; we had fun. If there’s anything I can do to get back, that’s one thing I want to kind of stress, is let’s relax and have some fun.”
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Amid their rough start, the Giants have been beset by injuries, particularly in the outfield. Opening Day left fielder Jarrett Parker is out at least two months after fracturing his clavicle running into a wall. On Saturday in Colorado, center fielder Denard Span suffered a sprained right shoulder when he also collided with the wall. Backups Chris Marrero and Gorkys Hernandez have not provided much help to a scuffling lineup.
All of which means Morse can’t get healthy quickly enough. The veteran outfielder/first baseman had all but locked up a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster as a powerful bat off the bench when he suffered a left hamstring strain rounding first base March 20. He was batting .265 with three home runs at the time and was arguably the surprise of camp.
Released by the Pirates in April 2016, Morse did not play for the rest of the season. His invitation to Giants camp this spring arose from a spontaneous conversation with general manager Bobby Evans at Pence’s wedding in the offseason, and he told reporters that he intended to retire if he didn’t crack the Giants’ roster out of camp.
His injury quashed that possibility. But rather than retire, Morse, 35, chose to go through the rehab process, which has already spanned more than a month and included games at extended spring training and High-A San Jose before he got to Sacramento on Saturday.
“I think the biggest part about it was the guys,” Morse said. “A lot of the guys knew the situation I kind of was in, and really wanted me to do it. So for me, the bond and stuff, I was like, ‘I can’t leave these guys hanging.’ I want to at least give it everything I’ve got and do it for them.”
Morse went 2 for 9 with a walk, two strikeouts and an RBI in three rehab games at San Jose. He was 1 for 4 in his first game at Sacramento on Saturday, lining a single to left-center field in his second at-bat. He also hit into two groundouts and struck out swinging.
“He looks great at the plate,” said outfielder Mac Williamson, who has been rehabbing with Morse. “It’s hard to say until you get up here to a little bit better competition, but I thought he’s been swinging the bat really well. He’s had a good approach. Just missing some pitches. He was only 2 for 9 at San Jose but he skied a couple balls, barreled a couple balls at people. So I think he looks good.”
Morse played all nine innings at first base Saturday and had a good test of his hamstring on the bases in the fourth trying to score from second on a single to center field by Trevor Brown. He was thrown out, with Las Vegas catcher Xorge Carrillo making an athletic tag as Morse slid in feet first.
“I mean, I didn’t get hurt,” Morse said, smiling. “So that’s a plus.”
Morse was scheduled to start in left field for the River Cats on Sunday and said he feels good about the progress of his recovery.
“The more you play the game, you know your body and what you need to do and how much time you need,” he said. “I feel pretty good.”
As of Saturday night, Morse said he hadn’t talked with anybody from the Giants about their plans for him. He said it hasn’t been easy watching the team struggle and thinking he might be able to help were it not for his hamstring. If he does get that opportunity, he’ll do all he can to be an infusion of life.
“I know the guys pretty well, and I kind of see it on TV,” Morse said. “Got to shake up the clubhouse some.”