Monday, July 19, 2010 7:54pm
By Mark Zuckerman
CINCINNATI -- By any statistical measure, Nyjer Morgan is having the worst season of his career. And at this stage of the summer, its going to be difficult for the Washington Nationals center fielder to turn things completely around and salvage some final numbers close to his career norm.
But if youre looking for the slightest glimmer of hope that Morgan might be starting to figure things out and recapturing the form that made him such a valuable part of last years roster, it has come over the last three weeks.
Entering Monday, Morgan was hitting .293 with a .346 on-base percentage over his last 18 games, a stretch that also includes six stolen bases in eight attempts, better defense and leaves the effervescent leadoff man feeling good about himself again.
Yeah, the planets are starting to line up, right? he said with a laugh before Mondays game against the Cincinnati Reds. Im just trying to finish off the second half strong. Im just trying to make it happen.
Overall, Morgan still is batting only .255, and his .316 on-base percentage is paltry for an everyday leadoff man. Both marks are more than 30 points below his career averages, but both represent a modest increase from where they stood only a few weeks ago.
In the last ... at least three weeks, hes really played good baseball, manager Jim Riggleman said. Hes played a very good center field. Hes getting on base at a higher rate. With a lot of at-bats already, his on-base has gone up probably 10 points in the last few weeks. Hes getting some bunt base hits. Hes just been playing really good baseball for us.
Morgans upswing at the plate may actually have been spurred by a fantastic play in the field. On June 25 in Baltimore, Morgan robbed the Orioles Corey Patterson of a home run. It was the highlight of perhaps the best game of his career, one that also included four hits, three runs, a double and a stolen base.
Morgans 18-game stretch began that night at Camden Yards.
That was a little bit of a start, I guess, he said. I dont know, its just how the game is. Its funny like that. I really havent changed too much of my approach. Its just part of the game, man. You go through these spells, and its just how you handle it mentally.
One change Morgan has made in recent days is his bunting technique. Often stymied in his attempts to drop the ball down the third-base line, hes made a concerted effort to drag bunt to the right side of the infield. It worked over the weekend in Florida, producing two base hits.
The whole first half, I dont even think I attempted three down to first, he said. I was rolling everything down to third. So in the second half, I planned to bunt more down to first, just because everybody has a good scouting report on that.
Morgan knows the bunt is a critical part of his game. He had 10 bunt singles in only 49 games with the Nationals last season. Through his first 86 games this year, he had only seven.
The reason for his struggles: Getting too far ahead of himself. Like an infielder who looks to make the throw before ever fielding the ball, Morgan admits he fell into the habit of looking to get out of the batters box before making sure he made good contact. Hes worked on correcting that.
Just get it down and then go, he said. Instead of trying to be sneaky about it, when theres no point in me being sneaky because everybody knows whats going on.
Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at email@example.com.