Nyjer Morgan's decision to attempt to steal second base with two down in the second inning of Friday night's game against the Florida Marlins and the Nats' pitcher John Lannan at bat received a significant amount of scrutiny centered around the idea that it's a better baseball decision to let the pitcher bat in that situation rather than having a presumed automatic out to start the next frame, and the Nationals' Skipper Jim Riggleman's response to a question in the post game press conference about Morgan's decision-making only seemed to add to the frustration some fans have felt recently with the 30-year-old outfielder's lack of what's often referred to as "baseball IQ":
"Nyjer, he's hitting eighth there, but that's his game. I can't ask him to hit eighth, but don't run. I really thought that he'd get that base. The pitcher wasn't real quick to the plate but the catcher made a great throw, and he got him. That's Nyjer's game, I can't take that away from him."
In Nats Insider.com's Mark Zuckerman's article on the play and the controversy that's followed Morgan the last few weeks entitled, "Center of attention for wrong reasons", Mr. Zuckerman quoted the Marlins' catcher who threw Morgan out, Brad Davis, explaining that though he, "knew it was the wrong situation," for a runner on first to attempt to steal a bag there, "...it was the wrong situation for him to steal after we hit him that one time. He's not really playing by those rules, so it was definitely in my mind." Morgan was thrown out at second, Lannan led off the third inning with a swinging K and the Nats went down in order in a game they trailed 2-0 and eventually lost 3-1.
Asked a question about the decision to bat Nats' catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez eighth in Sunday's lineup, the Nationals' manager once again addressed the situation with Morgan and explained why Pudge or any catcher the Nats put out there will probably find himself batting eighth for the near future:
"I talked to Pudge about this. I don't want Pudge to hit eighth, but the way we have some guys who can run, any of those guys who I put in that eighth spot, their running game is pretty much taken away as it was the other day with Florida. If I hit Nyjer eighth, I don't want to tell a guy who's a premier runner in the game, a great base stealer, the numbers aren't indicating it right now, but a big part of [Nyjer's] game is base stealing. If I hit him eighth and he makes an out where the pitcher has to lead off, it's questionable baseball strategy on my part to allow him to run there. I don't want to be in a position where I say, 'Nyjer, you're in there but you can't run,' so I have to hit him seventh or somewhere else to do that. I don't want [Danny] Espinosa when he's playing hitting eighth, you know, right now, the way our team lines up, pretty much whoever's catching is probably going to be hitting eighth."
The positive? With Pudge Rodriguez's tendency to ground into double plays, (he's done so 24 times this season, the second-highest total of his career), Morgan's tendency to run regardless of the situation might actually help the Nats' catcher avoid matching his career-high of 31 DP's. The negative? A player who makes the wrong choices fairly consistently and a Manager who doesn't feel he can ask a player to do what best for the team in a given situation out of concern for how that player might react...