Morgan ready to turn page on tumultuous 2010

Morgan ready to turn page on tumultuous 2010

Morgan ready to turn page on tumultuous 2010
VIERA Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman don't have to tell Nyjer Morgan that he has a lot to prove in 2011. Morgan enters the season as the team's starting center fielder, but that could change quickly.

Morgan has to do at least two of the following: get on base more often, hit left-handed pitching and/or steal bases without getting caught so often. In 2010, Morgan had the worst season of his career, hitting .253 with an on-base percentage of .319. He also was 27-for-135 [.200] against lefties and was caught stealing 17 times in 51 attempts, while hitting mostly from the leadoff spot.

If he doesn't show improvement during Spring Training, Morgan may find himself platooning with Jerry Hairston, Jr. Even worse, he could lose his starting job all together if Rick Ankiel has a better spring.

Morgan believes that he can go back to being the player who hit .351 in 49 games after the Nationals acquired him from the Pirates in June of 2009.

"There's really nothing else to say. I know what to do," Morgan said. "Is it supposed to be added pressure? Supposedly it is, but in my eyes, no. I've been playing this game my whole life. I'm a little wiser. I'm more experienced now. Basically, I'll come at it and play my game. I'm not just going to go out there and say stuff that I shouldn't. I'm going to play my game.

"My biggest thing is, I have to play. I'm not worried about hitting lefties, hitting righties. I just have to play. I know what I can do. I've had my ups and I've had my downs. I think I know how to manage them now."

Morgan said there were a couple reasons that he didn't play up to his capabilities last year. He didn't come into camp in the best of shape last year, because he was still recovering from a broken left hand that he suffered while stealing third base against the Cubs in August 2009. He acknowledged he didn't work out that much during the offseason.

"My hand was still hurting. I wasn't 100 percent," Morgan said.

After he arrived in camp, Morgan was unhappy with his contract. After his great showing with the Nationals, Morgan was looking for a long-term deal, so he changed agents and hired Seth and Sam Levinson. But the Nationals never considered giving Morgan a long-term deal.

"I was immature last year," Morgan said. "Some people don't go through what I went through last year. I take it as a learning experience. I feel like I'm a better person than I was last year at this time. Basically, I'm ready to go. I'm happy about my offseason -- what I did. I came in prepared. Now I have to let my game speak for itself.

"I'm coming into [this season] right -- real fresh. I was able to basically focus on myself [this offseason], not anybody else. I have to worry about what Nyjer Morgan has to do."

Morgan looks like he is in great shape. It appears that he has added more muscle to his frame.

"I busted my [butt] because I came into the season right," he said.

Some might even say Morgan needs an attitude adjustment. Last season, Morgan found himself in controversy during the second half of the season.

Morgan hit a fan with a ball at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and tried to knock down Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson -- even though Anderson didn't have possession of the ball. He also used inappropriate language toward fans at Sun Life Stadium after a physical altercation with Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad.

On Sept. 1, Morgan charged the mound in the sixth inning and threw a punch at Volstad, who had thrown a pitch behind the left-handed hitter. Two innings earlier, Volstad hit Morgan in the lower back. Morgan went on to steal two bases in the inning, even though Washington was trailing by 11 runs. The Nationals ended up losing the game, 16-10. The Marlins had a problem with Morgan from the previous day, when he barreled into catcher Brett Hayes, who suffered a separated shoulder on the play.

While it was proven that he didn't hit the fan in Philadelphia intentionally, Morgan was suspended for eight games and fined $15,000 for the incidents against the Cardinals and Marlins.

Asked if he learned anything about the two incidents with the Cardinals and Marlins, Morgan said, "Yeah. I didn't do anything wrong. People are going to have their opinions. They are entitled to their opinions, but in my eyes, that is part of the game. I had my hearing. I had to serve my time, and I'm ready to move on. That's over with. That's the past."

The Nationals hope Morgan is ready to put last year behind him and become the leadoff hitter that they expect him to be.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.