VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals are in a tenuous situation with center fielder Nyjer Morgan this spring. They want him to work through the struggles that led to his letdown of a season in 2010, so manager Jim Riggleman isn't putting much stock in Morgan's rough start at the plate. But at the same time, the Nationals have more competition in their outfield than at any other spot on the roster, and Morgan knows he's not immune to that.
Those two factors are what produce quotes from Riggleman like the ones he gave to reporters on Sunday. He said "concern is a little too strong a word" to describe his reaction to Morgan's 1-for-13 start to the spring, because Morgan is adjusting his plate approach with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, often arriving at the ballpark at sunrise to get to work.
But at the same time, the Nationals have a half-dozen outfielders fighting for spots, and Riggleman isn't locking any of them down.
He wants to give outfielder Laynce Nix an extended look in the next week or two, and both Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse are off to strong starts in camp. The Nationals also have Rick Ankiel in left, and Jayson Werth will be in right.
(Beware: A very long quote follows.)
"Sometimes I think everybody - fans and a lot of people feel like, 'Guys come in, they play good, they win a job.' It's not like that," Riggleman said. "Nobody's going to come in and take Ryan Zimmerman's job if they hit 1.000, you know? Ryan Zimmerman's our third baseman. There's no competition there. (Adam) LaRoche is our first baseman. (Ian) Desmond's our shortstop. Werth is our right fielder. Somebody might say, 'That's not the right way to do it,' but I think we all know Alex Rodriguez is going to play third base for the Yankees, you know? No matter what else happens, there's some givens. There's areas where there's not competition - it's just getting some guys ready for Opening Day. The areas where there are competition, it's a great thing to have quality people around such as (Alex) Cora, (Jerry) Hairston, Nix, Ankiel. The guys who could possibly come into camp thinking, 'I've got a spot,' have to realize, 'There's a lot of talent here. I cannot take anything for granted. I think that is a healthy situation."
But at this point, the Nationals just want Morgan to work with Eckstein, polish his bunting (they're making him bunt at least once a game this spring) and play without worrying about the circumstances.
"It seems like when he's not bunting, they're pitching him tough, and pitchers have won the battle so far," Riggleman said. "But it's not just early, it's extremely early. The larger bit of work that Nyjer's done - a .283 career hitter - that's what we're looking at. There's a track record of success. Nyjer may be our hardest worker in camp right now. ... He's doing everything he can to turn it around here sooner or later. But I don't want him pressing. I just want him to play baseball and ignite us."