Slow start lets Morgan outshine alter ego
By ANDREW GRUMAN
Emotion in the game of baseball can be a tricky thing. There's a fine line between playing with passion and showing up the opposition.
Perhaps no player has straddled this line more than center fielder Nyjer Morgan.
When things are going well for both the player and the ballclub, Morgan's fun-loving and entertaining alterego "Tony Plush" is revered by Milwaukee Brewers fans.
In 2011, T-Plush was on full display, with his signature moment coming as Morgan flashed the "T" after sending the Brewers to the National League Championship Series with a walk-off single in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
But this season, T-Plush has been notably absent, or as Morgan would put it, "Tony Hushed."
Morgan admitted Sunday that he has not brought out the alterego because of his early-season struggles at the plate.
Entering Sunday, Morgan was hitting .230.
"When you are dealing with the slow start I've had, you want to pick it back up before you bring it out and start doing all the little antics," Morgan said. "You still have to respect the game. Plus, you don't want to rub people the wrong way."
The slow start hasn't merely limited the amount of time Brewers fans have seen Tony Plush this season; it also has limited the time they've seen Morgan in the lineup.
With the emergence of fellow center fielders Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez continuing to play against left-handed pitchers, Morgan's playing time has decreased.
"I'm not frustrated, it is just one of those things," Morgan said. "I can't get down on myself. Other guys are swinging the bat well. I respect the manager's decision to do whatever it takes to win because it's all about winning.
"However they want to put out the lineup, I'm all for it. I told Skip early, 'It doesn't matter how you use me as long as we win.' "
The decrease in playing time would have bothered Morgan, 31, earlier in his career. The fact he's accepting of his role is a great sign of maturity.
Morgan had a platoon role with Washington in 2010, and that taught him how to deal with limited playing time and how to contribute when he gets his chance.
"I was in and out of the lineup, up and down the order and (former Nationals manager) Jim Riggleman actually just told me one time, 'Don't worry about it, you are going to contribute somehow in certain situations.' " Morgan said. "As a young player, I didn't understand it. Now, being an older player and a veteran, I understand the situation."
That year, 2010, also saw Morgan's lowest single season batting average, .253. The career .283 hitter hasn't had too many stretches like this in his career.
"He's gone through a tough season so far," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Last year, he came out and things were great from the get go and hit .300 the whole year for us and played all the time. He's going through a little trial here where your character is tested, emotions are tested, and I think he's done a real nice job with it.
"He's stayed positive. He keeps battling, and he is swinging the bat better and, hopefully, we get him back to the same guy we had last year."
Morgan has limited his self-proclaimed antics on the field this season, but Roenicke still sees emotion from a player that thrives on it.
"He's still emotional, but I think that doesn't mean it is a negative," Roenicke said. "He is emotional in definitely a positive way. But sometimes emotionally he will do something he shouldn't do, and I know it bothers him.
"I know he wants to be a gamer and that part is great. His emotional spark is really important to this club, but he wants to make sure it is always on the positive end."
Anyone who watched the Brewers at some point last season saw how much fun the club had on the field. It was evident.
This season, that has been toned down. There hasn't been "beast mode" or anything like it.
Morgan doesn't know why this year's team hasn't brought something out.
"We still have a great group of guys here," Morgan said. "I can't really pinpoint that, and sometimes I like to pinpoint things. We are just a new club, and we have to understand each other more and more as we work together."