Justin Maxwell gets his chance
With Nyjer Morgan's eight-game suspension starting today, Justin Maxwell will take center field and step into a potentially important stretch of baseball for his future. Maxwell has not been able to find consistency all season with the Nationals in terms of playing time or even being on the team. For the next eight games, though, he'll be playing at least close to every day, giving him one more chance to prove he is a major leaguer.
"I really want Maxwell to take off with some of these opportunities and use it as a period to show us, 'I'm the real deal.' " Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I want to put it on him to go take this opportunity."
Maxwell, an Olney native and Maryland alum, has been sent to the minors three times this season, bringing his total over the past two seasons to six. In 79 at-bats spread out over his multiple tours in the majors this year, Maxwell is hitting .139/.293/.291 (average/on-base/slugging). The Nationals have long hoped he will shorten his swing -- he's struck out 71 times in 228 major league career plate appearances -- and finally unlock his potential.
"To just consistently make more contact with the fastball is the number one goal," Riggleman said. "You feel for him. It's got to be demoralizing to drag that bat back to the dugout that many times. We want him to have some positive feelings for him. He's just a class individual. You really shouldn't do this as a manager, but you really root for him. He's just first class."
It has been difficult for Maxwell to find a rhythm at the plate this season between demotions and the the inconsistent role his meager production led to. Maxwell can be reassured that, with September here, he can't be sent down again -- "I don't have to worry about playing general manager," he said.
At 26 and in his fifth year with the franchise, Maxwell may be nearing a crossroads with the Nationals, and this stretch could be pivotal for him. But Maxwell took a patient stance and is unconcerned with the notion.
"I've been playing pro ball for five years," Maxwell said. "That's not that long. I know I can play. It's just a matter of getting the opportunities, staying within yourself and trying to have some fun."
Said Riggleman: "I don't think it's the last chance. He's just such a special athlete. You look at him and the physical attributes that he has, it's like looking at [Marlins rookie outfielder Mike] Stanton. If Stanton swings and misses for a while, nobody's going to give up on him. When they hit it, it goes."
Maxwell showed progress this season at Class AAA Syracuse, hitting .287/.370/.439 in 272 plate appearances. While he understands he now has one of his best opportunities in the majors, he wants to ignore that aspect and just play.
"I'm just going to take it like that," Maxwell said. "I'm not going to change anything."
While Morgan sits for eight games, he will be able to work out and take batting practice with the Nationals. If Maxwell sits out with Morgan not available, Roger Bernadina will likely move from left field and play center.
September 17, 2010; 6:14 PM ET
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