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02/23/10 9:27 PM EST

Morgan learning to slide feetfirst

Outfielder has set goals of 200 hits, stolen-base crown

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan is determined that this season is going to be his best year ever. He believes he is capable of collecting 200 hits and winning his first stolen-base crown.

But he has to make a serious change for his dream season to happen. Morgan must change his style of sliding. Last year, he missed the final 34 games because of a broken right hand sliding headfirst into third base against the Cubs on Aug. 27.

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.

The Nationals didn't have to tell Morgan what he has to do to stay on the field and make an impact on the team: Learn how to slide feetfirst.

"I have to be a little smarter," Morgan said. "I figured I'm a little more older now, so I don't have to do the reckless things anymore."

Morgan has been in camp since early January, and on Tuesday, he was seen doing sliding drills. Morgan was seen sliding, but had a tough time getting both hands up in the air. Morgan's right hand was still on the ground during the slide. The coaching staff had to remind him to keep his hands up while making the slide. Still, manager Jim Riggleman felt Morgan did a good job.

"I really don't think he's going to lose any speed [sliding feetfirst]," Riggleman said. "If we are fortunate to have him all year, he is a difference maker because of his defense."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.