Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nyjer stuck in a deep "freeze"

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan is in a prolonged funk at the plate and in the field.
SAN DIEGO -- Let's get this out of the way right off the top: Jim Riggleman isn't going to bench Nyjer Morgan.

"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."


phil dunn said...

Pray tell us, how will the Nats find another center fielder when they can't find a legitimate right fielder? Worse yet, it really hurts to look at a Cleveland Indians box score and see Austin Kearns, the regular right fielder, hitting .325 and batting third in the lineup.

Anonymous said...

It's Acta-Milledge all over again.

JayB said...

This is Riggs Achilles heal I was talking about a while back. Riggs can not see the forest for the trees with "his guys". Rizzo will sit him down and explain what needs to be done soon. Morgan has to sit and get his mind straight. Expect an 15 day DL trip real soon. That will give all Riggs some cover but Morgan will not get over himself on his own.

NatsJack in Florida said...

This is Brian Bruney all over again. Totally delusional.
Morgan hasn't had any consistantcy since last season. His Spring Training work was inconsitant and his regular season effort has been abysmal.

I'll say it again. Get me a center fielder that has baseball instincts and can the one that has hockey instincts.

alexva said...

when Riggleman says he's our leadoff guy & CF'er, what he means is he is of no value anywhere else. Unless he get demoted, they have to start him or they're wasting a spot on the bench

Richard in BB said...

I think there is something mentally wrong with Nyjer that we are not aware of. I believe he will get back to where he was after we got him last year.We need to show a little patience. He is by NO MEANS the main reason we lose what seems like, every other game. Kearns was obviously hurt physically last year,and a lot of the present commenters COULD NOT WAIT for him to "get out of Dodge"I wish we had kept him now!

K.D. said...

I think Riggleman is doing the best with what the good Lord and Rizzo has given him. Obviously he doesn't think complaining about Nyger in the media will work, (at least right now) to get him off the snide.

JayB said...

Morgan is in total denial about his game. Not sure what he is thinking. Drugs and/or Alcohol issues? Just a mental case (and why the Pirates were so willing to trade him for our proven head case)?

My gut says he is just too full of himself this year and unable to admit he does not have the talent to be the player he wants to be. He needs to be more of a Pete Rose type player that works harder than everyone else, plays smart, makes all the plays he should and takes a pitch in the hip to get on base. Last night he pulled back on several pitches which would have hit him in the arm. He should make sure they hit him, Rose would have.

natsfan1a said...

For the record, that's "heel" and "schneid" (sorry, proofreading mode kicked in for a moment there :-)).

Not sure what's going on with Nyjer, but I also wonder whether something's going on in his head. I'm rooting for him to figure it out.

K.D. said...

natsfan1a, oops! my proofreading is enjoying the holiday weekend, thanks for picking me up:-)

Steve M. said...

I think it is admirable that Riggs isnt throwing his players under the team bus. There isnt a better replacement for Nyjer so he needs to stick with him with the hopes he can return to 2009 mid-season form.

Interesting in the post-game interview Nyjer was asked about playing back further as he isnt playing balls over his head well.

At least if Nyjer can play stellar defense, his offensive lack of production wont sting so bad.

Anonymous said...

Nyjer's demeanor and irrational responses to reporters questions last night were really disturbing. He is in complete denial about his growing defensive woes. His responses to questions were often rather strange and that laugh had to be heard to be believed. He's lost his way in the field, at the plate and on the bases. A slump at the plate happens to the best of them but I can't recall the last time I've seen a simultaneous slump in every aspect of a player's game.

Steve M. said...

"@Mark Z. 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."

That post-game laugh was hard to take. He has that Sammy Sosa on-field and clubhouse "schtick" which was all great for the fans when all was well.

Like with Sammy, when you arent playing well, it got old real quick.

Also like Sammy, when the cameras are turned off, they arent that loveable guy away from the cameras.

Can you say "character actor"? Slammin Sammy and Tony Plush.

natsfan1a said...

You're welcome, K.D. I'm all about teamwork (and I always enjoy your posts). :-)

Anonymous said...

I was always leery of the "Tony Plush" alter ego. It's just as creepy as the stuff Clinton Portis pulled at his "weekly press conference". We're paying for professional athletes not clowns with multiple personalities.

Anonymous said...

I think he is trying to do too much. He wants to make the spectacular play all the time. His semi-wild throws from the outfield are one indication. Just not playing smart ball at this time. He should just let the game come to him. He also seems jittery at the plate trying to do too much. He is a punch and Judy hitter by nature and should be content to put the ball in play and use his legs to beat out hits. He looks to bunt way too much.

In some ways he seems to have something of a manic personality. Very sunny and energetic when things going well, dour and black when things are going bad. Hard to live with if you are a teammate or management. Maybe that's why we got him. Keep it simple, Nyjer, and rev down some. The ship will right itself.

Anonymous said...


Cathy said...

You put this precisely how I was thinking it last night after watching his post-game interview. Guffawful!

Doc said...

From Riggleman's comments, I'd say that he's in denial as much as Morgan is. Of course these guys, Ozzie Guillen excluded, are famous for dissembling the truth.

Anonymous is getting close to the heart of the matter, with respect to this player's emotional status. In any case, management and coaches rarely have any impact on such player issues.

It's a sad time for Nyjer and his fans. We had great expectations for what he was supposed to do for the Nats and himself this year.

JayB said...

If it is Drugs, Riggleman is wholly ill-equipped to deal with it or even recognize it. A few months back I heard a XM interview with Riggs about Sammy and Steroid Error. Riggs was very credible and believable when he said he had "no idea at all" about PHDs. He really just believed these guys were "working harder than the past generations".....Riggs is clueless in many ways of the modern world.

JayB said...

PEDs sorry

Eric said...

JayB = Moron

CoverageisLacking said...

In all seriousness, I hope that the Nats are considering providing Nyjer with some professional emotional/mental help. He might not need it, but on the other hand, by all appearances he might need it badly. It is worth considering, at minimum. Not all people--even ones blessed with tremendous athletic ability--are built to handle the pressure of being a professional athlete competing at the highest level.

Cwj said...

Drugs? Come on folks. No need to slander the guy. He admitted he's in a slump, what else do you expect him to do? Break down crying about it? For heaven's sake people cut the guy some slack.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, do you think Nyjer needs professional emotional/mental help because he showed up in the clubhouse with that silver Elvis wig?

JayB said...

Eric = Jerk with no opinion about Nats

For weeks I have been pointing out Morgan's issues are mental and getting worse. For weeks I have called to sit him down and let him get his head straight.....For two weeks now he has sunk to new lows in all areas of his game and clearly is losing respect with fans, media and I'll bet teammates. So Eric what is your view other than insulting those with views.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so out of the question to wonder if he has some sort of substance abuse problem?

Watching him in the outfield is incredibly disturbing. He's like an unguided missile and he was never like this last year.

Something about him is different this year than last year.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Piersall--Bi-polar. He overcame it with treatment and contnued his career as a ball player. Pretty common these days but has to be contolled with medication. Can get badly out of hand if left untreated.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Piersall!! Now that is a name from the past. I'm such a geezer I remember seeing him as a player. Came up in the 1950s and had his best years with the Red Sox, playing in the same outfield with Ted Williams.

But one spring he began to behave wildly and eventually was sent to a mental hospital and had to be restrained. They didn't use the term bi-polar back then but that was probably his problem...or the (IIRC) the similar manic-depression.

Whatever. He recovered and wrote a book (which I've got around here somewhere) called "Fear Strikes Out" that was made into a movie with Anthony Perkins in the starring role.

He made his way back to the big leagues and played several more years. As I remember, the recovered Piersall was still an odd bird but funny. No longer had the black clouds following him. When he hit his 100th home run (in a brief time with the New York Mets), he circled the bases running backwards.

Will said...

I agree with Eric -- JayB, you're a moron. Citing alcoholism or drug addiction as the source of Nyjer's problems is unfounded and plainly stupid.

And if anybody's drinking, it's the people who are clamoring for Kearns. His "resurgence" has more to do with a ridiculous .424 BABIP, as he's actually walking LESS and striking out MORE than he did as a National.

Kearns had a 900+ OPS to start last April too -- then his stats regressed to normalcy and he invariably got hurt. I expect the same in Cleveland.

natsfan1a said...

I believe that those are different terms for the same condition, but I'm not here to diagnose the player, or to speculate as to whether he has a substance abuse problem. Just hope that Nyjer and the team will be able to figure out what's going on with him and fix it.

JayB said...

Erik, if you read the post you will see that I said, "my gut feeling" was not drugs/alcohol.....others pushed that idea more than I but in any case it is much more than a slump. Slumps effect hitting but not fielding or base running or bunting....he has lost all this skills at once and his reactions (see yesterday yet again) is way out or line to a are a fool if you believe nothing is wrong.

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