WASHINGTON -- Manager Jim Riggleman spent Tuesday afternoon praising Michael Morse's defense at first base. Morse backed up the talk that night by starting a 3-5-1 double play -- third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. covered second with a shift on for Ryan Howard -- that prevented any late Phillies rally.
Morse began his career in Seattle at shortstop, but quickly outgrew the position.
He last played shortstop for two innings in 2007, and most of his starts in Washington have come in right field.
"I'll always think of shortstop as my position," Morse said. "In my heart, I'm a shortstop, but my body tells me I'm not."
Entering Wednesday's game against the Phillies, Morse started 10 consecutive games at first base. With Adam LaRoche on the 15-day disabled list, Morse took over the role as the Nationals' everyday first baseman and has yet to make an error.
"I'm not going out there trying to fill Adam's spot," Morse said. "Adam LaRoche is Adam LaRoche. He's a great player and I can't wait until he comes back because he's a big part of the team. In the meantime I'll do my best."
While LaRoche was known for his glove, he struggled at the plate. Morse just capped a month of May in which he hit .403 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.
Riggleman said Morse can still play third base, but with the Nationals' depth at the position he is lower on the pecking order and more likely to play first base and outfield.
Cora exits finale early with stomach bug
WASHINGTON -- Third baseman Alex Cora left Washington's game against the Phillies on Wednesday after the fourth inning with stomach issues.
He was 0-for-1 with a walk before giving way to Jerry Hairston Jr.
Cora committed an error in the second inning, when he could not handle a Carlos Ruiz ground ball that led to Philadelphia's only run in a 2-1 Washington win.
"Alex was really under the weather," said manager Jim Riggleman. "If Alex Cora doesn't catch a ball then it doesn't get caught -- he's that good over there."
Cora also had a collision with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard in the second inning, when Cora went to apply the tag to Howard on his slide into second on a double. Howard's helmet hit Cora in the neck, and Cora appeared shaken up though he remained in the game until exiting two innings later.
Hairston had an injury scare of his own in the fifth, when he raced Wilson Valdez to third base for a force out. Hairston stepped on the bag as Valdez slid into it, and their feet tangled up, sending Hairston to the ground. Hairston remained in the game.
Zimmerman plays three innings in Florida
WASHINGTON -- Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman returned to action Wednesday, playing three innings in an extended Spring Training game in Viera, Fla.
Zimmerman, on the disabled list with an abdominal strain, planned on playing only three innings in the contest, and the reports were that it went well.
Rizzo pleased with Harper's play at Hagerstown
WASHINGTON -- Although general manager Mike Rizzo already said Bryce Harper will not receive a call to the big leagues this season, that will not stop the No. 1 pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft from receiving a promotion.
Harper is hitting .331 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs for the Class A Hagerstown Suns.
"He's having a terrific season there," Rizzo said. "I like the setup he has there -- he's very comfortable in his surroundings and has a great staff around him. But I don't see him staying there for the entire season. He'll be moved at some time. We're just not at the point where he's ready to move yet."
Riggleman's team meeting comes at right time
WASHINGTON -- Every year at the one-third point of the season, manager Jim Riggleman holds a team meeting. The timing could not be any better this year for Washington.
The Nationals lost eight of their past nine games before Riggleman held a closed-door meeting Tuesday, and each of their three previous losses came by one run.
"It's just a feeling you get that guys are getting frustrated with their numbers not there, and we're finding ways to lose games," Riggleman said. "Heck with all that. It's baseball -- this is not the cure for cancer. Let's get out there and play baseball, and when it's all said in done, come in here, look ourselves in the mirror and know we left it all on the field."
After the meeting, the Nationals scored 10 runs and jumped all over the Phillies' Cliff Lee for their biggest margin of victory over the National League East leaders since returning to Washington.
"We won. You can't get a better impact than that," said first baseman Michael Morse.
General manager Mike Rizzo echoed Riggleman's thoughts one-third into the season, happy with the play of the club, but frustrated by the results.
"I like the way we're playing," Rizzo said. "I don't like the fact that we're not winning as many games as I think we should. We're playing clean defense, running the bases well, doing some of the little things that we haven't done in the past. I think we've hit on a lot of the goals we set in the offseason."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.