Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Nyjer Morgan hasn't been nearly the same player this year that he was last year.
Two plays from last night's loss in particular drew the ire of Nats fans: the first-inning pickoff and the seventh-inning throw to the wrong base.
Though replays showed Morgan actually was safe on Tim Hudson's pickoff attempt, the fact remains he made yet another out on the basepaths. And even though he's actually improved his stolen base percentage -- he was successful only eight of 16 times through May 15 but has been successful eight of 11 times since then -- he still doesn't feel right on the bases.
Morgan believes one reason may be the transition he made from sliding headfirst to feet-first and back to headfirst again. The Nats told him to start going in feet-first this spring after he broke his hand last August. But Morgan clearly wasn't comfortable doing that, and it showed. His numbers have improved since he was told he could revert to his old form, but he still doesn't look like the Nyjer of old out there.
"I think getting off to that slow start and sliding with the feet first and everything kind of makes the caught stealings look worse than it is," Morgan said today. "I just had to make an adjustment there. And then yesterday, I thought I was safe [on the pickoff play], but he got me anyway and it cost us. Definitely it sucks, because I'm killing rallies, man. But like everybody in here, I've got to keep my head up. It's a tough time right now."
Asked today about the pickoff play, Jim Riggleman gave credit to Hudson for having "about as good a right-handed move as I've seen." But the manager also made it clear he's concerned about Morgan's overall baserunning issues.
"Out or safe, the issue is: We're missing something there with Nyjer's basestealing," Riggleman said. "Nyjer, never mind getting picked off, when he's going to second, he's so fast. When he's safe, it's been close. And when he's out, it's close. He's too fast for these plays to be close. We're looking at it. We're trying to figure out why he's getting out of there at first base not as quickly as he could. He's got a chance to be an elite basestealer. And when you're an elite basestealer, you flat-out take that base. It's not going to be that close."
Regardless, the Nationals feel like they can't just put up the red light on Morgan and prevent him from running altogether, because it's such a critical part of his game.
"What's the point of that?" Morgan said. "It would be like going from station to station. Then there's really no point in me being out there. I guess we've just got to clean it up. Start off with a new slate in the second half and go from there."
As for Morgan's ill-advised throw to third on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly -- which allowed the trailing runner to advance to second and eventually score himself -- Riggleman spoke to his center field last night about the error of his ways.
"It's a situation where it almost puts the exclamation point on what we know we're doing," Riggleman said. "Each guy is trying to do too much. It's an aggressive mistake. It's a mental mistake, but it's an aggressive mistake. He doesn't want to let that guy get to third base. 'I'm going to throw him out.' When the chances of doing that from where he was are pretty slim. ... That play was pretty typical of the way we've played lately."