Friday, September 3, 2010, 1:26 p.m., Updated at 7:45 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
PITTSBURGH -- Washington Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan was suspended eight games by Major League Baseball on Friday for a series of actions over the last week that included two collisions with catchers, two encounters with fans and a bench-clearing brawl.
Morgan, who immediately appealed the suspension, led off and started in center field Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He's scheduled to have appeals both on this and his previous seven-game suspension heard on September 10 in Washington.
Three other Nationals were suspended by MLB for their roles in Wednesday night's fracas in Miami. Manager Jim Riggleman and third base coach Pat Listach each were suspended two games, and reliever Doug Slaten was suspended three games. Riggleman began serving his suspension Friday night. Listach will begin serving his time Sunday after Riggleman returns. Slaten appealed his suspension and was available out of the bullpen Friday night.
Four members of the Florida Marlins were suspended for their roles in the brawl: pitchers Chris Volstad (six games) and Alex Sanabia (five games), first baseman Gaby Sanchez (three games) and manager Edwin Rodriguez (one game).
"I thought the suspensions were a little bit heavy, but I certainly expected the suspensions," said Riggleman, who watched Friday's game along with general manager Mike Rizzo in a press box suite at PNC Park. "I think baseball is saying: 'We're not going to put up with this. We're not going to have bench-clearing brawls.'"
MLB said Morgan's suspensions were for three violations: Running into St. Louis Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson on Saturday, inappropriate comments made to Marlins fans on Tuesday and then charging the mound during Wednesday's brawl and gesturing to fans as he left the field.
Morgan continues to defend his actions.
"I don't think I did anything wrong," the former Pirate told three Pittsburgh reporters before Friday's game. "I was just playing the game hard. People are blowing it way out of proportion."
This latest punishment is in addition to Morgan's previous seven-game suspension for an altercation with fans in Philadelphia on August 21. He appealed that punishment and will present his case against it on September 10.
Unless MLB chief disciplinarian Bob Watson reduces Morgan's total of 15 games' worth of suspensions down to two, the outfielder won't appear during next weekend's rematch with the Marlins at Nationals Park.
Both Riggleman and Rizzo showed continued support for Morgan on Friday.
"Some of the things that he did were disconcerting to me," Rizzo said. "A lot if it snowballed after that. Most of the incidents I really have little or no problem with at all. They were pure baseball things. But there were a few situations that were unfortunate mistakes by a young, aggressive player who should know better. He's never had a problem off the field, outside the white lines. Between the white lines, there's been some issues. But he's been a model citizen off the field, in the clubhouse and in the community. Let's not forget that."
Despite Morgan's on-field struggles this season -- he entered Friday's game batting .257 with a .317 on-base percentage -- Rizzo made it clear the 30-year-old remains a part of the team's future.
"He's going to be a guy we're going to depend on to play stellar center field for us and hit at the top of the order," the GM said. "When we get good enough to compete for championships, he'll have proved himself in that role or he'll have an opportunity to play himself out of it. Right now, that's the way I view him. It's certainly too early in his career ... to give up on him."
Morgan insisted he won't change his aggressive style of play in the wake of these high-profile incidents.
"If I had played like that back in the '80s, nobody would've said nothing," he told Pittsburgh reporters. "But we're in a new age of this game, and I guess you're supposed to slide and you're not supposed to play hard-nosed. That's how I got here, by playing the game hard. I can't stop just because there's a little bit of controversy right now. I want to show I have the will to win and definitely not the will to quit."