Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan is in a prolonged funk at the plate and in the field.
"Nyjer is our leadoff hitter. He's our center fielder," Riggleman said following tonight's 4-2 loss to the Padres. "He's just going to have to come out of it."
"It" is a prolonged slump that has overtaken every aspect of Morgan's game. At the plate, on the bases and in the field, he's struggling big-time right now. And the Nationals are paying the price for it.
Tonight's loss, to be fair, was not pinned on Morgan. He didn't do anything to help his team win, but he didn't lose the game. Adam Kennedy's first-inning error, J.D. Martin's subsequent hanging curveball to Nick Hundley and an overall lack of offense did in the Nationals.
But Morgan's struggles have become a significant problem for a Nats club that plays so many tight ballgames it can't afford for its leadoff man and center fielder to be stuck in a prolonged funk like this. Plain and simple, the Nationals need Morgan to snap out of this, and quick, if they are to maintain a winning record over the long haul. Or else they're going to need to find another leadoff man and center fielder.
"I'm just having bad luck now," Morgan said. "I'm working counts, battling. Right now, it's just not happening. I've got to get Dr. Freeze off my twig. But it'll be alright."
That was just one of several uncomfortable moments during Morgan's postgame media session in which "Tony Plush" made far too many appearances. Perhaps it's the only way Nyjer knows how to deflect criticism and convince himself everything's going to be OK, but the act is beginning to wear thin.
Everyone loves the alter-ego when Morgan is hitting .351 and snatching up every ball that approaches center field. But when he's hitting .243 and misplaying flyballs on a semi-weekly basis? It's tough to laugh along with him.
Morgan's numbers this month are even worse. Over his last 22 games, he's batting .182 with a .259 on-base percentage and a pathetic .195 slugging percentage. That adds up to a .454 OPS. Want to know how bad that is? Mario Mendoza, generally considered the worst hitter of all-time, owned a career OPS of .507.
"Right now, I'm just cold," he said. "Last year around this time, I was doing the same thing, batting around .240. Just got to keep going. It's a long season. It's just a terrible month. Definitely May showers. But June's gonna boom."
Morgan then let out a guffaw that doesn't really translate into print. Suffice it to say, it was another of those uncomfortable T-Plush moments that lately leaves everyone cringing.
Morgan's struggles appear more pronounced now because the Nationals' offense as a whole isn't getting top-to-bottom production. Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ian Desmond are hitting. Ryan Zimmerman and Cristian Guzman have their moments. But Roger Bernadina has cooled off considerably (he's 4 for his last 24 and in 79 plate appearances this month has drawn two walks, one intentional) and Wil Nieves is proving why Ivan Rodriguez is so valuable. And, of course, the guy at the top of the lineup isn't getting the job done.
"I think we're a good offensive club," Riggleman said. "We're not the '27 Yankees. But we do enough offensively."
The manager paused and rethought his answer.
"I shouldn't say we do enough," he said. "There's more there. But I'm confident that when it's all said and done by the time the year's over, this club offensively, we're going to say: 'That's a pretty good offensive ballclub.'"
It's tough, however, to have a "pretty good" offensive club when your leadoff hitter is playing like this. As Nyjer Morgan goes, so go the Nationals. And he's going to continue to get a chance to make his team go.
"He set a pretty high standard last year. It just hasn't been quite the same this year," Riggleman said. "But if Nyjer's not your center fielder and your leadoff hitter, I don't know what he is."