“It wasn’t really what he didn’t show as much as what Ankiel did show,” Rizzo said. Ankiel “could go get the ball in the outfield. His arm was really a weapon. He can create a lot of damage with one swing of the bat. I focus it more on what Ankiel did than on what Nyjer didn’t do. After the first week, he played really well. He did everything he had to do. It was Ankiel winning the job, not Nyjer losing the job.”
After batting practice Sunday morning, wearing gray sweats and a white long-sleeved shirt, Morgan made one final lap through the Nationals’ clubhouse. He tossed his belongings into a cart, smiling as he embraced teammates and they wished him luck. He hugged base running and outfielder coach Bo Porter and told him, “I want to thank you for everything.”
At no point, Rizzo said, did the Nationals not consider bringing Morgan to spring training. There were, however, some in the organization who believed the Nationals would have been better off cutting ties with him in the offseason. Morgan’s poor performance last season — he hit .253/.319/.314 (average/on-base/slugging) while leading the league in caught stealing — coupled with several on-field transgressions made it at least an outside possibility.
But Morgan was still making the major league minimum, and the memories of 2009 were not far off. Morgan caught fire the day he arrived in Washington, hitting .351/.396/.435 over two months and injecting joy into a clubhouse mired in losing. His speedy base running, magnificent defense and Tony Plush persona made him a quick fan favorite.
The act lost charm last season, when Morgan’s play worsened and he earned a suspension for his part in the Marlins-Nationals brawl in early August. He also earned a suspension for throwing a ball into the stands, which was revoked, and engaged in a public spat with Manager Jim Riggleman following his odd, inexplicable running over a St. Louis Cardinals catcher after he’d been moved to the bottom of the order.
The Nationals defended Morgan’s reputation when the dust settled, and this spring he made a good impression, hitting reasonably well after a 1-for-16 start. He showed up early day after day, working with Porter and hitting coach Rick Eckstein. “I saw great strides being made,” Porter said.