Morgan's hand returning to full strength
Center fielder eager for season after breakthrough year
WASHINGTON -- Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan has a reason to be in great spirits before the Thanksgiving holiday. The left hand he broke last August is 100 percent. So much so that he took 30 swings off a tee on Wednesday.
Morgan, 29, acknowledged that he went overboard taking that many cuts, but he was eager to find how healthy the hand was.
"The hand feels good," Morgan said. "Even though the injury is in the back of my mind, I said, 'Don't push it. But I wanted to push it. I know it's November. It was something I really want to feel. I really feel good about everything."
Morgan suffered his hand injury sliding headfirst into third base against the Cubs on Aug. 27. At first, Morgan thought he dislocated his fingers and figured he would stay in the game. But he realized the injury was worse when he couldn't grip a bat.
Morgan had hand surgery two days later and missed the rest of the season. The hand injury cut short a season that had taken off since Morgan came to the Nationals in a trade from Pittsburgh on June 30. Morgan hit .351 with one homer, 12 RBIs and 24 steals for Washington. The team finished 13-21 during his absence.
While he hasn't talked to general manager Mike Rizzo or manager Jim Riggleman, Morgan expects to be told to slide feet-first into the base instead of going headfirst like he did against the Cubs.
"If I have to make the change, I'm definitely prepared to make the change," Morgan said. "But I'm not going to stop my aggressiveness on the base paths. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing out there. If I have to change my slide for team's sake, I will. We have something brewing and it will be special. I just want to be on board with everybody."
Morgan already has goals for next season. He wants to show consistency with the bat and glove, continue to give the team energy and become a leader for the first time in his career.
"I want to start helping out the younger players," Morgan said. "I'm close to 30 years old. It's about time I start acting like a leader and try to help out this organization, which is heading in the right direction."
Morgan will do almost anything to please Rizzo. One can hear in Morgan's voice the admiration he has for his boss, who traded for Morgan.
Morgan said Rizzo was the first to believe in his talents. Morgan didn't play every day in the Major Leagues until after the trade.
"Rizzo gave me the opportunity," Morgan said. "He believed in me. I'm fortunate that he realized my talent and brought me over. I love Rizzo. After everyone [showed me lack of respect], he sees the talent. He sees that I can play the game. He sees the hunger in my eyes. Finally, somebody sees it. I don' want to let him or the organization down."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.