When the Nationals acquired Nyjer Morgan along with Sean Burnett from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan it didn’t really matter what type of player Nyjer was. All that really mattered was that he wasn’t Lastings Milledge. He wouldn’t be a guy that would take bad routes to balls, he wouldn’t be a guy that would miss the cut-off man, or get picked-off time and time again, and most importantly he would be a guy that teammates and fans could get behind.
Morgan led a late season surge by the Nationals, helping them to win eight in a row and then seven in a row. He got on base at an outstanding clip of .369 and stole 24 bases while only being caught 7 times for a more than acceptable 77% success rate. Morgan’s numbers were great and largely above his expected norms, but no one expected the drop-off to be so dramatic and it hasn’t just been in the stats department.
Nyjer Morgan has been nothing short of awful this season. His .315 OBP and .319 SLG is bad even for a center fielder, and despite 31 steals he has been caught 15 times. That is a success rate that is just unacceptable, but even worse is that he doesn’t play the game the right way. Playing the game the right way has almost become a joke, because all major league players are expected to do it, and for the most part they all do, but when one veers from the path and doesn’t play the game right the results can be horrifying.
Nyjer Morgan in the past four games has twice run over a catcher not attempting to block the plate. The first time was Saturday night against the St. Luis Cardinals and catcher Bryan Anderson. Anderson was standing up the first base line conceding the plate. All Nyjer had to do was either slide or run over the plate. He did neither. He turned toward the catcher grazing him and missing home plate completely. In that instance he cost the Nationals a run when they were up big.
Last night was much worse. Not only with his refusal to slide did he possibly cost the Nationals a run he might have cost them a win. Nyjer was on second base when a ball was hit to the left side of the infield. It looked like it could be a double play. Third Base Coach Pat Listach sent Nyjer thinking that if the double play was broken up he should be able to score with his speed, and Nyjer should have scored. Most likely would have scored if he slid, but instead he ran over catcher Brett Hayes who had yet to even turn to face him when Nyjer was closing in on the plate.
It almost appeared as if Nyjer’s main goal wasn’t to score, but to take out some sort of revenge against the catcher. Morgan is frustrated with the season he has had, and he is frustrated that Manager Jim Riggleman is batting him 8th. Morgan believes he is a lead-off hitter and he believes he is a star. Morgan would be a serviceable roll player if he could play the game the right way, but time and time again this season he has shown that that is beyond his ability. He has missed the cut-off man, thrown to the wrong base, been picked-off first with the middle of the line-up batting, and now has taken to running over catchers when they aren’t even blocking the plate. All of these things are unacceptable, but they are even more unacceptable from a player with a .634 OPS.
Last night was the worst offense of all. Simply because there was no reason for it. It fired up the Marlins and helped them to gain a victory over the Nationals, but not only that. Today the Marlins will be looking for vengeance of their own. Riggleman better not keep Morgan out of the line-up today. If he does it could be costly for another player. Zimmerman or Dunn could take a fastball to the ribs, Kennedy or Desmond could be a victim of a spikes high take out slide, and the catchers better look out on any play at the plate. If Morgan isn’t playing things could get real ugly.
I hope Morgan gets his wish. I hope today he is the lead-off hitter, and that Chris Volstad throws a knockdown pitch right at Nyjer’s ear, and after that I hope he puts one in his ribs. Then Jim Riggleman needs to come out of the dugout and replace Morgan with a pinch runner. Let the Marlins know that the Nationals find that sort of behavior as reprehensible as they do. Let them know that this organization does not stand behind Morgan’s reckless and malicious play. Brett Hayes could have been seriously hurt, and for what reason? Because Morgan is frustrated at himself for having a bad season and for Jim Riggleman for batting him 8th. That young man did not deserve to be nearly concussed. There is no excuse for that type of play, and if Nyjer Morgan and his negative baseball IQ are back on the team next year I will lose a little bit of faith in Rizzo and the Nationals’ organization.