December 15, 2019

Trying to Focus on the Positives

March 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

At his best Nyjer Morgan is a scrappy, prototypical lead off guy.  Diminutive in size, he plays with grit and determination. He hurt himself sliding head-first into second base one too many times a season ago. But in 2010 he committed a multitude of sins, not the greatest of which was running into the Cardinal catcher, Bryan Anderson, standing on the plate as Morgan tried to score.  Despite the lack of a play at the plate Morgan barreled into Anderson when he could have likely avoided the Cardinal catcher completely and still scored the run. Since that play Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals have been spoiling to even the deal.

When Morgan ran out a bunt yesterday in a spring game and unintentionally spiked Albert Pujols in a close play at the bag, Tony LaRussa assumed the worst.  The Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter plunked a Washington batter shortly thereafter in retaliation.  When the Nationals took the field, Livan Hernandez plunked Colby Rasmus.  Hernandez proudly admitted he did it purposely to even the score and said that it should have been over at that point.  But Tony LaRussa, still believing the score was uneven, plunked Ian Desmond as well.  It led to the rare spring dust up as the benches cleared. There was nothing problematic about it.  Desmond handled himself with remarkable aplomb as did Riggleman.

No, the concern is that once again Morgan has sparked a row.

The worst play last season by Nyjer Morgan was not one made by his overly aggressive play on the bases.  No, it was throwing his glove on the ground in a fit of pique when he misplayed a ball.  The hitter circled the bases as the embarrassed Morgan chased the ball sans glove.  If aggressive play were his only problem, the Nationals would not be actively considering sending Morgan to Syracuse to start the season.  His biggest problem is his inability to keep his mind on the game and to play it the right way.  It was hard to know the cart from the horse with Morgan. Did the fifty point slip in his batting average cause his fits of temper and lack of focus or was it the other way round. Either way 2010 was not Morgan’s best season.

GM Mike Rizzo sought to solve the problem in a variety of ways. He brought in Rick Ankiel who is a fine defensive outfielder who can play center but has slipped with the bat.  The Nationals hoped that re-uniting Ankiel with his St. Louis hitting instructor, Rick Eckstein, might turn the trick.  Then there was young and toosly Roger Bernadina who might be the solution as well.  But neither he nor Ankiel is having the kind of spring that would relegate Morgan to a walk-on role.

Rizzo also brought in Jerry Hairston to address Morgan’s problems.  Morgan hits right-handed pitching at more than a .300 clip, left-handers at a .200 pace.  Hairston is a natural platoon for Morgan.  All of these patches taken together should be enough. The real necessity is Morgan stepping up and making everyone forget his unfortunate lapses of last season. It would help is somehow he could spare an obvious nod or gesture that let people know he did not spike Albert Pujols purposely.

Because Morgan stands to get in the way of the Nationals projecting something positive in 2011.

Most of the media are still grumbling about the Nationals paying $25 million too much for Jayson Werth.  The un-mentioned math of the Werth deal is subtracting him from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies are huge NL East rivals for Washington who obviously stand in the way of the Nationals improving as a team.  So any subtraction from Philadelphia that is a plus to Washington should count extra. There is also the large influx of fans from the City of Brotherly Love who show up at Nationals Park acting as if it is their home stadium.

Did Ted Lerner pry Werth away from the Phillies so that every Nationals fan can go to Philly games this year decked out in their Werth jerseys, a silent Bronx cheer of sorts to greet the Philadelphia tourists? I don’t know the answer to that, but if Werth sparks the team to a single victory in any of those head-to-head matchups in DC, the sweetness will indeed be “Werth” the money.

The bottom line is that the Nationals are trying to project a different image this season. They have a feisty, adroit manager in Jim Riggleman, a smart young double-play combo and more punch in the lineup via Werth and Adam LaRoche.  Getting Nyjer Morgan to play the game under control and to make the most of his talent as a table setter for those bats would be a big difference. It is not the same as if we had denied Cliff Lee to the Phillies and added the ace starter we so desperately need.  That double-duty event did not happen, so getting Nyjer Morgan back in the game becomes all the more important.

Nyjer Morgan might wish to consider every day that he puts on that uniform with the letters “DC” stitched across the front how many kids from across South Capitol Street would love to switch places with him. He takes a rare talent and unique opportunity with him every time he wears the uniform into center field.

Morgan can do as much if not more than Jayson Werth to quiet the background noise around Nationals Park this season. A focused and successful Nyjer Morgan gets on base almost four times in ten–especially if he is not hitting against lefties. So, when Jayson Werth hits a two-run homer with Morgan on base it could be twice as painful to the Phillies. And with that everyone in DC could listen to the sweet song that $126 million is singing just for them.

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