Monday, August 30, 2010, 6:44 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
MIAMI -- Nyjer Morgan was back in the Washington Nationals' lineup Monday night, back hitting eighth again, just as he was Saturday night when he was involved in a controversial play at the plate that landed him on the bench the next day.
But try as the Nationals might to move past that incident, Morgan appears to still take issue with the way manager Jim Riggleman handled things over the weekend.
Riggleman benched Morgan for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals because he believed the center fielder would get plunked in retaliation for running into catcher Bryan Anderson the previous night when there was no play at the plate. Morgan insists the play wasn't dirty, but he seems more upset that his manager criticized him publicly without ever raising the issue directly with him.
"He just basically did a Cardinal sin," Morgan said before Monday's game against the Florida Marlins. "You don't blast your player out in the paper. But it's all right."
During his pregame media session Sunday, Riggleman revealed he apologized to both Anderson and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa for a collision he called "totally inexcusable," and gave a lengthy answer when asked why Morgan had been benched.
"It's a mistake, and I can't minimize it," the manager said. "If I take the approach there's nothing wrong with it, then we're going to get people hurt on the field. There's gotta be retaliation. If Nyjer was playing today, he'd get hit. If an opposing player did that to my catcher and he came to the plate, he'd get hit."
Before Monday's game, Morgan made it clear he didn't think the benching was necessary, even if it meant getting a fastball in the ribs from a St. Louis pitcher.
"As players, we can police ourselves," Morgan said. "From how Riggleman thought it was, I guess he perceived it as a nasty play, me trying to intentionally hurt somebody, before coming to me and asking me about the situation. Which was very unacceptable. But on my behalf, I'm not going to go in there and throw fuel on the fire. I'm going to try to be as professional as I can about the situation.
"Basically, I thought I probably should have been in there yesterday. As a player, I knew something was probably coming. But I know that, as another player, they're not going to try to intentionally hit me in the head. I've been thrown at. I'm probably one of the league leaders in getting hit by pitches this year. So getting hit by a pitch ... I mean, you've got to take your lumps when you go out there and play hard and don't try to hurt somebody, but it happened to maybe look like that."
Morgan reiterated Monday that he only ran into Anderson because, as he was running toward the plate, he saw first baseman Albert Pujols pump-faking a throw home and Anderson setting himself as though he was about to catch the ball. By the time he realized there wouldn't be a play at the plate, it was too late to avoid contact.
"I could've taken the kid out if I wanted to," Morgan said. "But I kind of grazed him, which wasn't in my eyes intentional. I guess I should've slid. Next time, I'll slide."
In making contact with Anderson, Morgan missed the plate altogether. Ivan Rodriguez, who had just scored seconds earlier, pushed his teammate toward the plate to re-touch it, forcing umpires to immediately call Morgan out for getting assistance.
Asked on Monday if he felt he did anything wrong on the play, Morgan responded: "Besides not touching the plate, no."
The play at the plate capped an eventful week for Morgan. On Wednesday, he was suspended seven games by Major League Baseball for throwing a ball into the stands in Philadelphia the previous weekend and striking a fan. (He has appealed the suspension and is allowed to continue to play until a September 7 hearing takes place.) On Friday, Morgan was picked off first base with his team trailing by four runs, prompting Riggleman to meet with him. On Saturday, he was bumped from his customary spot at the top of the lineup to the 8-hole for the first time this season.
Riggleman speculated that Morgan's over-aggressive actions at the plate were a product of his frustration at getting dropped in the lineup, but Morgan insisted that wasn't the case.
"I couldn't care less where I'm batting in the lineup," he said. "Whatever. That doesn't affect me. That doesn't really get to me. I know where I should be in the lineup, but he's the skipper of this team, and as far as I know, he's going to make those decisions."
Morgan's issue appears to have more to do with the lack of communication between him and his manager than anything else. Asked on Monday whether he felt the need to meet with Morgan and discuss Saturday and Sunday's events, the manager explained he didn't feel that was necessary.
"I talked to Nyjer the night he got picked off Friday about that situation and why it can't happen and how we can avoid it and so forth," Riggleman said. "As far as the incident at home plate, I have not talked to him about that. That's self-explanatory. There's not much to talk about that play."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.