Nationals' Nyjer Morgan suspended eight games for brawl with Marlins and other incidents

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 4, 2010; 1:30 AM

PITTSBURGH - Major League Baseball suspended Washington Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan eight games for his role in Wednesday's benches-clearing brawl with the Florida Marlins and two other recent incidents, finalizing his controversial week with the harshest penalty of any participant in the ruckus.

The league - specifically disciplinarian Bob Watson - also cited Morgan for "unnecessarily" running into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson last Saturday and directing "inappropriate" comments toward fans at Sun Life Stadium in the 10th inning of the Nationals' loss to the Marlins on Tuesday.

Morgan appealed the suspension and played Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, leading off and manning center field. The suspension came in addition to the seven-game suspension Morgan is appealing for throwing a ball into the stands in Philadelphia. The league will weigh Morgan's punishment independently of Friday's eight-game suspension, and a hearing for both appeals will be held Sept. 10.

MLB also suspended Manager Jim Riggleman and third base coach Pat Listach for two games each and reliever Doug Slaten, who plunked the Marlins' Gaby Sanchez, for three games. Slaten is appealing his suspension and was available Friday night.

Morgan, after his eventful week, grabbed the headlines and the most games. Morgan did not want to comment publicly because he is appealing the suspension, but he thought the penalty was harsh and that he felt he hadn't done anything wrong. He appeared in good spirits before Friday's game, chatting with former Pirates teammates.

The league's biggest problem with Morgan's actions was how he left the field Wednesday and his interaction with fans Tuesday night. The Nationals have addressed the issue with Morgan, and he understands the Nationals will no longer tolerate any interactions with fans.

Riggleman called the rest of Morgan's incidents "very coincidental that these things have happened independent of each other." While the Nationals do not condone the gestures he made to the crowd or interactions he had with fans, they supported him otherwise.

"Some of the things that he did were disconcerting to me," General Manager Mike 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."

Rizzo also affirmed his commitment to Morgan as a player. Morgan's offensive numbers have suffered this season, but Rizzo believes he has played elite center field since late May and that bad luck on balls put in play accounts for much of his offensive decline. Morgan's batting average on balls in play this year is .308, down from his .357 career average. Morgan is batting .257 with a .318 on-base percentage.

"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," Rizzo 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 really difficult to go get premier defensive center fielders that have potential to hit at the top of the order and have the potential to steal 50 or 60 bases. And we have that. It's certainly too early in his career - being a [.286] career hitter and a [.345] career on-base percentage - to give up on him."

The brawl left the Nationals' clubhouse more unified than at any point this season. During and after Wednesday's game, teammates rallied around Morgan. Veterans embraced him and told him, in so many words, "We've got your back." Morgan hugged Slaten after the reliever drilled Sanchez with a pitch and was subsequently ejected.

Riggleman - who will be replaced for two games by bench coach John McLaren - expected the suspensions, but not the severity of them.

"I'm a little surprised," Riggleman said. "I thought the suspensions were a little bit heavy. When umpires give a warning to the benches and then a pitcher hits somebody and they throw the pitcher out and the manager out, it is what it is. It's automatic. The additional time and the additional money on some players, it's a little bit heavy, I think. I think it's baseball saying, 'We're not going to put up with this. We're going to not have bench-clearing brawls.' "

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