- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

CHICAGO | Nyjer Morgan’s uplifting season with the Washington Nationals came to an abrupt and frustrating end.

The speedy center fielder and leadoff man broke a bone in his left hand in the first inning of Thursday’s 5-4 win against the Chicago Cubs, an injury that will sideline him at least six weeks.

“It’s broke, guys, and I’m done for the year,” Morgan said as he walked past reporters in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

Morgan hurt himself with a hard, headfirst slide into third base in the first inning, moments after he opened the game by drawing a walk and then stealing second. He wound up scoring on Cristian Guzman’s RBI double but didn’t return for the bottom of the inning.

X-rays revealed Morgan broke the second metacarpal bone. He was due to fly back to the District on Thursday night and be examined Friday in Baltimore by hand specialist Thomas Graham.

The Nationals will add another player in time for Friday’s game in St. Louis, but a decision on which player hadn’t been made when the club departed Chicago. In the meantime, veteran utilityman Willie Harris will take over in center field.

General manager Mike Rizzo and others within the organization had pointed to the June 30 acquisition of Morgan from the Pittsburgh Pirates as the season’s most important roster move. In 49 games since the trade, the lightning-quick outfielder hit .351, scored 35 runs and led the majors with 24 stolen bases.

“It hurts. It’s a stumble for us,” Rizzo said. “But Willie’s been out there before, before Nyjer got here. Willie’s going to be out there again. It’ll give him a chance to step up again and do what we have him on the team for. The other guys just have to step up like we did today.”

Morgan’s injury came as he returned from two days off while battling flu-like symptoms. He boasted earlier in the day about how he often overslides a base because he comes in so fast, a trait that perhaps makes him more injury-prone.

“It seems like guys keep sliding headfirst and are kind of playing with fire,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Sooner or later, something bad might happen.”

No catching up

It’s common for teams to add a third catcher when rosters expand in September. The Nationals certainly could use some help with veterans Josh Bard and Wil Nieves banged up after filling in the past 3 1/2 months for injured starter Jesus Flores.

But Washington doesn’t have any attractive options at the upper levels of its minor league system and thus may not promote any catchers the rest of the season.

The only other catcher on the 40-man roster is Luke Montz, who was demoted earlier this year from Class AAA Syracuse to Class AA Harrisburg and is hitting a combined .180. The two catchers at Syracuse are Gustavo Molina (.214) and Jhonatan Solano (.196).

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