When Nyjer Morgan strode to the plate Sunday afternoon as the leadoff hitter for the Nationals against Ricky Nolasco and the Marlins, there was a strong round of boos that rippled through Roger Dean Stadium.
Three pitches later, in an 0-2 count, Nolasco hit Morgan on his right side — a move that was met with cheers from the crowd.
Clearly, the Marlins fans in attendance hadn’t forgotten the brawl between the two teams on Sept. 1 that started when Morgan charged Florida pitcher Chris Volstad and took a swing at him — one day after Morgan’s hard slide resulted in a separated shoulder for Marlins catcher Brett Hayes and following the second time that game Volstad had hit him with a pitch.
The fight resulted in an eight-game suspension for Morgan while Volstad (6 games), Alex Sanabia (5), Gaby Sanchez (3) and manager Edwin Rodriguez (1) were suspended for the Marlins. The Nationals’ Doug Slaten (3), former third base coach Pat Listach (2) and manager Jim Riggleman (2) were also suspended.
On Sunday, Morgan quietly went to first base after being hit, stole second and later scored when Rick Ankiel singled to right field.
After the game, Morgan told MLB.com that he felt there was “no question” that Nolasco hit him on purpose.
Here’s Morgan’s full quote:
“No question, without a doubt. It’s obvious because of what happened last year. Obviously, they haven’t turned the page. But I’m going to be a stronger player, better person. I’m not going to react to it. I felt better by going out there and being able to steal that bag, getting myself over to third and generating a run.
“I felt more satisfied after that than staring at him and putting on my mean mug. Basically, what am I going to get out of (fighting)? I’m just going to hurt my team and somebody could get hurt. It’s spring training, anyway.
“It’s a plus on our side because they know we are not going to react to their negativity. It’s part of the game. I know I got tested for a reason. It will probably be the last test I will get. I felt a lot better by just walking down to first, stealing second and generating a nice rally in the first inning.”
Nationals manager Jim Riggleman declined to comment after the game, saying only Nolasco knew the intent of the pitch. Nolasco, who was making his first start of the spring after rehabbing a thumb injury, told reporters the pitch was not intentional — and could back that statement up by the fact that he was lacking in control throughout his outing.
In the first inning alone, Nolasco hit Morgan, walked Alex Cora, threw a wild pitch, hit Danny Espinosa in the head with another pitch and allowed singles to Ankiel and Roger Bernadina.
As Riggleman said, Nolasco is the only one who knows for sure what the pitch was supposed to do and where it was supposed to go. It very well could have been more retaliation against a player the Marlins made their disdain for clear last year.
It also could have been the result of a rusty pitcher — one with impeccable control who is stingy with walks and hit just two batters all of last year — making his first start in a game since Aug. 28.
So was it bad blood or bad control? The Marlins and Nationals play once more this spring and 18 times during the regular season. Perhaps we’ll find out.