- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

ST. LOUIS | If Jim Riggleman had his druthers, Nyjer Morgan never would have slid headfirst into third base Thursday afternoon and thus never would have suffered a season-ending hand injury.

But despite Riggleman’s pleas earlier this month for him to slide feet-first, Morgan couldn’t break his habit, at least not in midseason.

So as the Washington Nationals opened a three-game series Friday night at Busch Stadium, Morgan was in Baltimore having his broken left hand examined by a specialist. The dynamic leadoff man and center fielder will need six weeks to recover, not enough time to make it back on the field before season’s end.

“That’s the dilemma,” Riggleman said of players’ preference to slide headfirst. “Guys feel comfortable doing it. They feel like they’re quicker doing it, but their fingers, hands, elbow and all that is exposed when that happens. It just seems to be rampant in the game today. Guys want to go in there.”

Washington’s interim manager talked to Morgan about it a couple of weeks ago, and the 29-year-old was receptive to make a change. But he wasn’t comfortable doing it in midseason and figured he would give it a shot next spring.

“I think that most guys who are stealing bases in the last 10 years, that’s the only way they’ve done it. They’ve all gone in headfirst,” Riggleman said. “Then you get to the point where you’re tentative about going in feet-first because you can hurt your ankle and your knee. We’ve just got to really impress it upon him and others in the system. I think we need to mandate that you’re just going to have to learn how to go feet-first.”

Orr gets the call

The Nationals made a bit of a surprise move to replace Morgan on the roster, purchasing the contract of veteran infielder Pete Orr from Class AAA Syracuse. Orr was hitting only .245, but he batted .297 in the past month to catch the eye of Washington’s front office.

General manager Mike Rizzo also wanted to make sure he had a left-handed bat on his bench, with super-utility man Willie Harris taking over as the everyday center fielder in Morgan’s stead.

“We wanted a left-handed bat off the bench - that’s the main thing,” Rizzo said. “And he gives Jim some versatility. He can pinch run, he can play the middle of the infield and he can fill in in the outfield.”

The Nationals, though, do plan to call up Justin Maxwell from Syracuse once rosters expand next week and plan to give the prospect some time in center field down the stretch.

Guzman scratched

Orr wound up being thrust right into the starting lineup after shortstop Cristian Guzman was scratched with a recurring case of bunions.

Riggleman said Guzman, who missed a few games earlier this season with the same problem, had been bothered for several days but managed to play through it.

“It’s pretty tender-looking,” he said. “He’s playing good baseball, but we need to let that thing calm down a little bit.”

With Guzman sidelined, Alberto Gonzalez moved to shortstop, opening up second base for Orr.

• Mark Zuckerman can be reached at mzuckerman@washingtontimes.com.

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