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Nyjer Morgan: 'I'm still the same person'

Days removed from the controversial week that capped his difficult season, Nyjer Morgan has a new way to view his year.

"I'm getting tested," Morgan said. "Can I handle it, or am I going to break?"

Morgan veered away from controversy and returned to simply baseball this weekend in Pittsburgh, where he went 3 for 12 with two walks, one sensational diving catch and one caught stealing, which upped his league-leading total to 16. He joked with former teammates and he blended in, a refreshing change from a week in which he became one of the central figures in the sport.

Morgan received widespread national attention for a well-documented, ugly spate of incidents that concluded with bench-clearing brawl and an eight-game suspension, which he is currently appealing, heaped on to an earlier seven-game suspension for interaction with fans in Philadelphia, which he is also appealing. Morgan has pleaded innocence in all cases and, today, he defended his battered reputation.

He maintained that while his play regressed, he is the same person as he was last year. He bristled at the growing perception around baseball that he is changed. Last week bruised Morgan's reputation, which before today's game he offered his take on.

"It's just frustrating when people perceive you the wrong way when you play the game hard," Morgan said. "I guess it's basically what we signed up for. I think it's like a good buzz. All buzz is good buzz, in my eyes. I'm still the same person. It doesn't change me. This year is just one of those years, you know? Things just happen for a reason. It's just going to make me a better player and a better person, too."

When Morgan came to bat today, his first plate appearance at Nationals Park since the brawl, he received a mixed reaction, mostly cheers.

Even before last week, Morgan's season had been rough owing strictly to performance. As Morgan's batting average on balls in play dropped harshly this season, he became one of the least productive offensive players in baseball this year. He is hitting .257 with a .317 on-base percentage and a .318 slugging percentage, along with leading the league in caught stealing and pickoffs.

The only time Morgan experienced a season like this one, he said, came in 2004, when he played for Class A Hickory in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Morgan hit .255 with 120 strikeouts.

"I wish I doing the things I was doing last year, definitely not getting caught so many times," Morgan said. "My defense in the first half was a little shaky, but things slowly progressed. It's just one of those years, man. You've just got to chalk it up. You've got to try to finish it up strong and hopefully get ready to go for next year.

"I think I'm handling it pretty good. I wish my numbers were Nyjer Morgan numbers, but all the great players have their down years. That's where you've got to learn and definitely don't let it dwell. Because if you let it dwell, that's when everything starts really going downhill."

With next year in mind, Morgan said he might play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this offseason - or he might not. "It just depends on how much cash they break me off," Morgan said. "That's going to be the main factor. I might go out there just to have to fun. Or I might just chill out and get away from this."

Nationals officials can handle Morgan's drop in production. Based on statistical analysis, they believe his defense has returned to the elite level he played at last season and that his offensive decline is not permanent. But they have told him, in no uncertain terms, that they will not tolerate any more interactions with fans, which is what the league was mot alarmed about in suspending him.

Morgan has played every game since his latest suspension. Manager Jim Riggleman is hopeful - and Morgan is confident - that the league might drop the first suspension altogether. Morgan's hearing for both appeals is Friday.

"He's a catalyst in our lineup, and he's our centerfielder," Riggleman said. "We're going to play him unless we get told otherwise, that he can't play. What we're hoping is that situation from Philadelphia comes out to be that it didn't even happen. That would knock off a substantial part of the suspension. The situation in Florida, we hope it gets reduced and he would be back in there sooner than later. Until then, he's going to play."

By Adam Kilgore  |  September 6, 2010; 1:31 PM ET
 
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Comments

"how much cash they break me off, That's going to be the main factor". You've got to be kidding me. How about the main factor being what Rizzo tells you to do to keep you spot on this team? He has a horrific year but will decide on winter ball based on cash. Totally unacceptable. After all this crap w/ taunting fans and running over catchers, we get this?? Not impressed.

I'm not saying throw him out because of it. But, it's another data point that his head is not in the right place. And youth is no excuse, he's almost 30 years old. This is who he is. I'm fine with trying him again next for the minimum but if he doesn't produce he better get a ticket to Syracuse or released.

Posted by: Avar | September 6, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Watching Morgan from a distance this year, I've openly wondered if in 2012, the Nats start Bryce Harper in right...but strongly consider playing him in center. Morgan for Lastings Milledge has essentially been a wash in terms of both talent/delivery and maturity. If Harper can play CF--which is something that the team should be finding out in fall/winter ball along with the RF reps...then Morgan can be moved at some point...

Posted by: scotpeirson | September 6, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

What same person? You sure as hxxx are NOT the same person/player before the 2009 injury .....and compounding a less than mediocre 2010.... with Psycho Knucklehead behavior......we call that ... "JOB OPENING!!!!"

Posted by: FletcherChristian1 | September 6, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

"All the great players have their down years." Moonball Morgan.

Who is this idiot kidding? Every time he opens his yap he gives you another reason to dump him.

Posted by: howjensen | September 6, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Went to the game today and in section 209 at least, Morgan is being referred to as "Bonehead" Morgan for the way he has acted not only on the field with his inconsistent play but also his attitude.
Yes, know that he is young, but he has been terrible to fans and way to intense that he doesn't think things out.
A couple of examples:
We want to see him just hit it on the ground, and fine a way to get on base.
We want to see him not overrun bases like he did on Sunday and about a dozen other times. Frankly it's so hard to slide in head first, can't he be conventional like everyone else, feet first so that he won't overslide the bag?
We don't want to see him get picked off as much as he has.
We want to see him play smart Baseball, don't go after the hero plays and catches. Also he should watch the way Ryan Zimmerman does things, he is so baseball Savoy, cool and calm in every phase of things. Zimmerman thinks what is the easiest and best way to accomplish a feat, Morgan like a little kid thinks on how he can make the hero play, hero hit and hero steal of a base.

Once we see this action will we be happen to think of "Bonehead" Morgan as Nyjer again.

Posted by: Golfersal | September 6, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

The Nats have a surplus of good, solid outfielders -- Willingham, Morse, Bernadino, Maxwell, Harris, and Bryce Harper -- who will play hard without the childish antics of Morgan. He needs too grow up. If he can't, Rizzo should send him packing.

Posted by: harryejones | September 6, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Nyjer has had a tough year, and I don't know if he'll stick long-term, given recent events and his likely unwillingness to be a 4th outfielder in 2011. Through it all, the folks in the red porch seats in section 100 still love our Tony Plush.

I was at the game today - Danny Espinosa is unbelievable. This kid can do it all. I think the Nats will sneak up on a few teams next year and break out big in 2012.

Posted by: jfnats | September 6, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

And the stupidity continues as some of you who post on NJ continue to over analyze every word that comes out of Nyjers mouth never has so much been made out of one incident, does he not get the benefit of the doubt? the fact that he has never had one iota of trouble with the authorities mean anything to some of you goofballs, all you see is a young african american kid who stood up for himself who refused to be intimidated after he made a clean play(in trying to seperate the catcher from the ball and give his team the lead in a scoreless game) the night before, and because the Marlins took exception to their player being injured decided to teach the Nat's a lesson by going after Nyjer. i don't want to hear that bullsh#t about the unwritten rule Nyjer was trying to rally his team and his teamates who were collectively getting their butt's kicked and the Marlin's didn't like the fact that Morgan violated the so called unwritten rule, no wonder opposing team's fans come into Nat's Park and are able to do and say what they want, with fans like some of you it's a wonder this team has a home field advantage at all.

Posted by: dargregmag | September 6, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

dargregmag,
Sorry, you are way off base.
What happened in Florida is not giving a young African American kid the benefit of doubt.
We are on Nyjer for about a dozen "bonehead" things that he did that added up and all of a sudden he "exploded"

By you saying that we are picking on Nyjer because he is black, is like me saying, thank God that Nyjer Morgan wasn't around in 1947 and picked by the Dodgers in place of Jackie Robinson, if that would of happened and Jackie would of acted like Nyjer, history would of been totally different.

I am tired of folks like you using the premise that just because Nyjer is an African American that we are piling on him. That is not the case, most of us are just looking at players that do stupid things and pointing it out weather that player is Black, Hispanic, oriental or white. Yes there is still some form of prejudices in life unfortunely but I really don't think that this is the case on the way Nyjer is judged. Remember, just a year ago he was the big hero of the Nats.

Frankly someone has talked to Nyjer since the Florida incident and Nyjer has gone out of his way not to show any emotion and he reminds a lot of how Jackie Robinson went out of his way not to create any trouble 63 years ago.

It seems that Nyjer is still highly regarded by Nats management and can turn this around, a lot of folks including myself think that can happen. I hope so because Nyjer has a lot of talent that hopefully won't be wasted and in the future can lead the Nats to some great things. But at the same time the clock is a ticking and it's about 11:55 so Nyjer better be swift not to be caught doing the wrong thing when the clock strikes 12.

Posted by: Golfersal | September 6, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Sad fans. Nyjer is an awesome addition to this club and it is no coincidence that his hard play has sparked the team.

Di you all see Morse run into the catcher in Pitt? Good play for Morse. Just a worse catcher than in Nyjer's play

Posted by: golo1 | September 6, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Golfseral: Folks like me? now what in the hell is that supposed to mean this is not 1947. Jackie Robinson had to act a certain way so that the the system of institutionalized racism could be challenged with the buffer of baseball as the backdrop, in my mind the so called bonehead plays amount to very little in the grand scheme of things, Nyjer hasn't cost the Nats any loses and i've watched almost every game this year, yes he's been picked off but i would attribute that to better scouting by the opposition and Nats coach's not having the foresight to realize that team's would be lying in wait for Nyjer. i am in no way over sensitive about race but what i've read over the last week concerning the incident in Florida has made me take notice and defend Nyjer. I am a fan of this team but i'm also a realist when it comes to race and ethnicity in this country calling Nyjer a thug like a few people did on this blog was very disturbing to me, and these were supposed to be Nats fans!!. Nyjer did nothing thuggish and please don't tell me about that word because it is mostly attributed to young black teens and adults. I am going to continue to defend Nyjer until he proves otherwise and like i said yesterday i'm sure my defense will be vindicated.

Posted by: dargregmag | September 6, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

"I wish my numbers were Nyjer Morgan numbers, but all the great players have their down years."

-------------------

That's the first time "Nyjer Morgan" and "great player" have been used in the same sentence.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 6, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Dargregmag,
Will agree with you on one point, Nyjer's bonehead plays amount to very little in the grand scheme of things. That's because the Nats are what, the 8th worst team in baseball about 20 games back.

But are you on drugs with the comment that Nyjer hasn't cost the Nats any loses. Guy, I will say that conservatively he has cost the Nats about five games, one just last week when he ran into the catcher in the 10th inning when a slide would of gotten him home and given the Nats a lead.

The point is people are picking on Nyjer because he is having a very poor season. Yes he works hard and yes is devoted to trying to win. But at the same time he just does so many fundamental mistakes that you have to question if he has a future. Little things like he did in the first two weeks of the season by telling the Phillies catcher and daring him that he was going to steal off of the Phillies. Guess what happened, Nyjer got thrown out on the steal and the Phillies had the last laugh.

How about the game against the Orioles in which he went up for a long fly ball, it hit the wall and bounced at Nyjer's feet but Nyjer was too busy throwing his hat on the ground and stomping around while the hitter waltzed around for a in the park homerun. Oh, the Orioles won that game by a run.

I really want to see Nyjer play well, he has the god given talent but frankly I have gotten like everyone else that feels that it's better to just find someone else. Guess that is the extent of what I know because upper management is sticking with Nyjer through all this so I guess they know more than I know.

But at the same time there is a very, very good reason that people are expressing their displeasure with Nyjer, he has just played like a "Bonehead" all year.

Posted by: Golfersal | September 6, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

"'how much cash they break me off, That's going to be the main factor.' You've got to be kidding me."

Did it occur to you that maybe he is?

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | September 7, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

That, or else it's just way easier to hate on someone who's still better at what he does than most people are at anything.

________________
But at the same time there is a very, very good reason that people are expressing their displeasure with Nyjer, he has just played like a "Bonehead" all year.
Posted by: Golfersal | September 6, 2010 11:49 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | September 7, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

dagremag, you are a racist. Racism is when you judge someone due to their race. That is what you're doing. Treat everyone the same regardless of race. Forget about his ethnicity. MLK, Jr.'s main point was to get rid of focus on race, got it? You think you're being nice, but really you are just a coward who can only criticize someone if they are not black. Pure delusion. But thats what Lyndon Johnson did when he destroyed the black family in America with his (not so) "Great society."

Posted by: shred11 | September 8, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

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