Thursday, March 25, 2010

Morgan's electric return

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
In his first game in 11 days, Nyjer Morgan looked just like his old self.
VIERA, Fla. -- Nyjer Morgan claimed he was only playing at 80 percent tonight in his return from a minor hamstring injury.

"I didn't have it cranked up," he said. "I didn't really want to push it too hard, but I wanted to still push it just to show the boys that even though I was injured, it's good now."

If this is what the Nationals can expect from Morgan at 80 percent -- two hits, one of them a bunt single, and two stolen bases -- just wait til he's back at full-strength.

There's no denying Morgan's importance to the Nats. With all due to respect to Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn, who each had outstanding seasons in 2009, there's an argument to be made that Morgan was actually the club's MVP. Look at the difference he made when he was in the lineup in July and August. He got on base at a .396 clip. He stole 24 bases in 49 games. The Nationals scored 5.0 runs per game when Morgan played. When he didn't, they scored only 4.1 runs per game.

And that doesn't even take into account all the ground he covered in center field, making up for Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes' lack of range around him.

"Nyjer's contribution to us is big offensively," manager Jim Riggleman said. "But it's every bit as big defensively. We just want his legs under him real good so he can run some balls down for us in the outfield."

So the sight of Morgan racing around the bases and center field tonight was by far the most encouraging development in the Nats' 8-2 loss to the Tigers. Sidelined since March 14 with a slightly tweaked right hamstring, he came back with a bang.

It began with a line-drive single in the third, the warm-up act for the real fun two innings later. Morgan was a one-man wrecking crew, dropping a bunt down the third-base line and beating the throw for a single. Then he stole second (and yes, he slid feet-first). Then he stole third.

For the first time all spring, Morgan felt like himself.

"Oh, most definitely," he said. "You guys saw it. It felt really good to do that. Now I just want to keep it on a consistent basis."

Consistency could still be an issue for the 29-year-old, who entered tonight's game with only three hits in 21 spring at-bats. But he made up for lost time over the last couple of days, getting 10 at-bats a day in minor-league, intrasquad games before returning to the big-league lineup tonight.

Morgan, who did a similar thing last spring with the Pirates, thinks the extra work makes a significant difference.

"Big-time," he said. "I wouldn't say I got my groove back, but it's starting to come. I went down there, got a bunch of ABs, locked it in. That's one of the things I really like about spring training. I can get over there and get like 10 ABs a day and really work on what I'm trying to do before the big lights come on."

The big lights come on in only 10 days, so it will be a bit of a sprint to the finish line for Morgan. Riggleman isn't worried, saying the extra work the last few days coupled with the kind of shape most ballplayers report to camp in these days makes it easy to get ready in such a short time frame.

The Nationals could certainly use 100 percent of Nyjer Morgan from the moment Roy Halladay throws his first pitch to the dynamic leadoff man on April 5.


BrownSheep said...

One of the things I love about Nyjer Morgan is his Ernie Banks attitude. He seems to exude that energy that says, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!" i think that is some of what the Nationals are going to need if they are going to make significant improvement. They have to change their mentality and start to approach the game like winners. Sometimes it is the intangibles that can help make up for what is missing in talent.

peric said...

He's the key to that whole offense ... that's for sure.

Doc said...

Mark, what was the Nats record, after Morgan came over from the Pirates, and when they had to play without him when he was injured?

Mr. Doggett said...

BrownSheep, good point. I totally agree that Morgan's attidude along with what he brings to the offense is key to the Nats winning. Let's just hope he stays healthy.

Sunderland said...

Nyjer's first game with the Nats, July 3, 2009.
In games he played from Jul 3 until he went DL the Nats won 22 and lost 26.

Nyjer absolutely is key, offensively and defensively.

Avar said...

Couldn't agree more re: importance of Morgan to this team. If he is close to what he was last year, that will go a long way to making up competitive. Really glad the brass made him sit extra long and get that hammy totally healed up. Those are notorious for recurring.

Avar said...

"notorious for recurring" - meaning I'm glad theyu sat him so it totally healed. Writing is hard.

natsfan1a said...

Doc, I'm not Mark, nor am I a mathematician, but as near as I can tell from looking at the day-by-day record for 2009, the Nats were 23-53 before Morgan's first game (on July 3), 23-29 from that point until he broke his hand (on August 27), and 13-21 from that point on. Note that the middle W-L number is for all games in that period, rather than for only those in which he played.

natsfan1a said...

Addendum: Morgan had 49 games with the Nats in 2009, so he played in all but 3 of the games in the middle period.

Jeff said...

Frankly, I would discount the period when Manny Acta was managing... With Jim Riggleman in charge AND Nyjer Morgan on the squad (not necessarily every day he played), the team went 19-20. The remainder of the year, they went 14-21. I'm counting the actual game where he hurt himself as being "post-Nyjer", since he had just 1 plate appearance in the game, a win over the Cubs in Chicago, meaning his only impact came in the top of the 1st inning. However, the Nats did score 3 in the top of the 1st on their way to a 5-4 win, so if you want to count that as a "with Nyjer" game, it's even more stark: 20-20 versus 13-21.

Chris said...

Looking at the record of the team with and without Morgan doesn't really tell you anything about his value to the team. You can derive his value just from looking at his offensive and defensive statistics, which were both very good.

One of the things to keep in mind is that he's unlikely to bat .350, or whatever it was, for the Nats for a full season. We saw him at his hottest.

And while he's an absolute beast defensively, we're comparing him to Milledge in our minds, rather than to a typical centerfielder. The difference in his defense is being intensified because the guy he's replacing sucked so much.

Doc said...

Thanks to all you guys for weighing in on Nyjer's stats---great job! Gooooooooo Nats!

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Nyjer's most important contribution. If we are looking at 90 losses he brings much needed comic relief. T Plush #1!

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