Zuckerman: Nats Prepare For Morgan Suspension

Zuckerman: Nats Prepare For Morgan Suspension
September 8, 2010, 5:27 pm
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 1:27 p.m.

By Mark Zuckerman

Nyjer Morgan's hearing in appeal of a pair of suspensions totaling 15 games will take place Friday morning, and the Washington Nationals center fielder is hoping to have a good number of games lopped off.

Still, the Nationals fully expect Morgan to have to sit out some amount of games, leaving manager Jim Riggleman searching for replacements both in center field and atop his lineup.

Roger Bernadina figures to take over in center field, as he did when Morgan was on the disabled list with a minor hip injury last month. That would open up left field for some combination of Willie Harris, Justin Maxwell and Kevin Mench.

The leadoff spot, however, is more up in the air. Riggleman has tried both Bernadina and Adam Kennedy there at times when Morgan was injured or benched, though neither has been wildly successful in that role.

So the Nationals may give rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa a shot, hoping to take advantage of his impressive speedpower combination.

"I've scratched out a few different lineups with different people hitting leadoff," Riggleman said before Wednesday's game against the New York Mets. "Kennedy did a good job with that, but as Espinosa plays more now, I've toyed around with the idea of hitting him up there. I like keeping Ian Desmond in the second spot for a while. But it's going to be a little bit of a challenge. I hate to put that on Espinosa so much, but it might be that's what he does."

Espinosa, the 23-year-old infielder who spent most of this season at Class AA Harrisburg, has been on a tear since joining the Nationals' roster one week ago. In his first six big-league games, he hit .500 (9-for-18) with three homers and 10 RBI.

One of only two players in the minors this season with 20 homers and 20 stolen bases, the switch-hitter could profile as a leadoff hitter down the road, though his power also makes him a candidate to bat second or sixth.

No matter who ends up leading off, the Nationals figure to be without Morgan for some length of time. He was originally suspended seven games for an August 21 altercation with fans in Philadelphia in which he allegedly threw a ball into the stands and struck a fan. He was then suspended another eight games for a series of actions over several days that included purposely running into St. Louis Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson, yelling at fans at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, then charging the mound after getting thrown at twice by Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad on September 1. Morgan was also cited for yelling and gesturing toward fans as he departed the field that night after getting ejected.

Even if his suspension is reduced, Morgan is expected to miss all of this weekend's series with the Marlins, taking some of the juice out of the rematch. Riggleman, though, believes last week's beanball war and brawl are a thing of the past and won't be dredged up again when the two teams meet at Nationals Park.

"Yeah, definitely," the manager said. "I think so."