Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan went 1-for-3 but was caught stealing at an inopportune moment.
If you've lost track -- and who could blame you if you have? -- we're now in Week 3 of "As Nyjer Morgan Turns," and there doesn't appear to be any conclusion to this soap opera in sight.
To be fair, Morgan had little to do with the outcome of tonight's 3-1 loss to the Marlins. This was a game decided by the Nationals' lack of offensive competency against Florida's Alex Sanabia, who has now faced the Nats three times since the All-Star break and has now shut them out twice.
But that's really all there is to say about this game. John Lannan wasn't particularly bad nor was he particularly good, but he was charged with the loss nonetheless. Danny Espinosa made a couple of nice plays in the field. So did Adam Dunn.
At the end of the night, though, the primary subject of discussion was the same guy who was the primary subject of discussion earlier in the afternoon. And the same guy who has been the primary subject of discussion around this team for more than two weeks now: Nyjer Morgan.
This didn't have to be the case. Had Bob Watson ruled on Morgan's appeal after meeting with the center fielder for more than four hours in a Nationals Park conference room, he would have begun to serve his suspension tonight, just as everyone expected when the day began.
But this is obviously a more complicated case than anyone originally thought, and Watson has suggested he may not make his final ruling before the weekend is over. Which means Morgan was eligible to play tonight, and he'll probably continue to be eligible to play the rest of the series.
Unfortunately, that's about the worst thing that could happen to the Nationals, who at this point have to just want the Nyjer saga to go away.
He was up to his old tricks again tonight, hurting his team in the name of ... what? I'm not entirely sure. There doesn't seem to be any reasonable explanation for his attempt to steal second base with two outs in the second inning and John Lannan at the plate. He was, of course, thrown out by Brad Davis, ending the inning and leaving Lannan to lead off the third.
Anyone who has played this game for any length of time knows there may not be a worse situation in which to try to steal a base. Two outs and the pitcher up? Even if you're safe, the odds of Lannan (career batting average: .103) driving you in is minuscule.
Davis is a 27-year-old career minor-leaguer who's only on the Marlins roster because of the loss of three other catchers: Ronny Paulino to a PED suspension, John Baker to Tommy John surgery, Brett Hayes to a separated shoulder (an injury caused by Nyjer Morgan). He knew Morgan had no reason to steal second base there, but he also knew he might.
"I had a feeling," Davis said. "I knew it was the wrong situation, but 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."
So why would Morgan (who has been instructed by the Nats not to speak to the media until his case has been resolved) try to swipe the base in that situation?
"With all that happened, I think he kind of wants to put it to us," Davis said. "Which is understandable. I would, too."
If you were looking for a public flogging from the Nationals clubhouse, though, you weren't going to get it. Not tonight, at least.
Asked if he had any problem with Morgan getting thrown out in that spot, Jim Riggleman responded: "No."
"That's his game," the Nats manager said. "I can't ask him to hit eighth but don't run. I really thought he would 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."
Actually, Riggleman can. He's the manager. He can put the stop sign on. He can also choose to bench a guy is not doing a whole lot these days to help his team win.
Things had appeared to be picking up for Morgan, who over a two-month stretch from June 25 through August 22 hit .301 with a .348 on-base percentage and 16 steals in 19 tries. After a difficult first half to the season, he was finally showing flashes of the form that made him such a valuable player to this team in 2009.
Then Morgan got into whatever took place in Philadelphia three weeks ago, the incident that led to his initial seven-game suspension. I don't know what exactly happened there, and I don't know that whatever did happen merited a suspension. But I do know this: Nyjer hasn't been the same player since.
In 16 games since returning back to D.C. following that Phillies series, Morgan is hitting .196. He's been caught stealing three of five times. Worse, he's been involved in a string of high-profile situations, some game-related, some non-game-related, all of them drawing negative attention to himself and to the Nationals.
And that's the biggest problem about all of this: Nyjer Morgan has been the center of attention on this team for more than two weeks now, and none of it for the right reasons. At a time when fans and media should be focused on Danny Espinosa and Jordan Zimmermann and Wilson Ramos and John Lannan and Yunesky Maya and just about anyone else on the roster, all we're talking and writing about is Nyjer Morgan.
It shouldn't be this way. The final scene of this play should have been presented by now. Watson should have made his ruling. Morgan should be serving his suspension. Short of that, Morgan shouldn't be doing anything on the baseball field that draws unnecessary attention to himself. And Riggleman shouldn't be putting him into situations that allow him to draw unnecessary attention to himself, not to mention hurting his team's chances of winning.
It's time for this story to be over. The Nats have 21 games left to play this season. Nyjer Morgan shouldn't be the focal point of each of them.