VIERA, Fla. -- Nyjer Morgan didn't so much disappoint last summer as deliver a spectacular train wreck of a disappointment.
Bad enough that his on-base percentage dropped to .310 from .360 in '09, and that his batting average plummeted 54 points, from to .253 from .307.
But what made him toxic was his whacked-out behavior on the field late in the season, from earning a suspension when he threw a baseball into the stands in Philadelphia and hit a fan in the head to the ugliness of a brawl with the Marlins that traced back to the night before, when he bowled over catcher Brett Hayes on a play at the plate that was viewed as dirty. Hayes separated his shoulder in the collision. And this came after he ran over St. Louis catcher Brian Anderson -- "unecessarily", in major league baseball's eyes.
He wound up suspended a total of 15 games in September for a combination of these incidents. After a hearing, it was reduced to eight.
In center field and in the leadoff role in 2011, Morgan will be a huge help to the Washington Nationals if he can revert to anything close to his performance when they acquired him from Pittsburgh in the second-half of '09 (he hit .351 with a .396 on-base percentage in 49 games for the Nats then).
But he will be lucky to make it out of spring training with the club if he reverts to anything close to the unbalanced outfielder he was last August and September.
"I'm a valuable piece to this team," Morgan said during a long conversation the other day. "I know what I'm capable of doing.
"If I do it right, I'm definitely one of the top leadoff hitters in the game. If I do what I did last year, I'm not going to help this organization become a winning organization."
Morgan, 30, explained that last season he "had a bunch of s--- on my table, some personal stuff. My own personal stuff. ... I had a rough stretch. I had a month that was rough. You live and learn off of your mistakes."
He declined to explain what "personal stuff" he had going that could have caused such outrageous behavior.
"I had my downs last year," Morgan said. "The year before I had my ups.
"Now I'm a little older, a little wiser. I can see things coming now instead of just reacting and being immature."
Part of what he says he can see coming is right in his own organization.
"If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, I'm going to be on the damn bench," he said. "It's a no-brainer. They don't want that s--- from last year. They want the player I was in '09.
"I got that. I'm definitely all aboard."
The Nationals sure hope so.
"He's been outstanding," manager Jim Riggleman said, noting that Morgan has been especially receptive to early instruction from hitting coach Rick Eckstein and outfield coach Bo Porter. "He's got a lot of bounce in his step and a smile on his face. He's working hard."
Morgan promises that will continue.
"My head was a little swollen last year, I ain't going to lie to you," he said.
He also feels he's in a good place because he had a full winter of workouts -- starting two weeks after the season ended -- as opposed to two winters ago, when he was limited following the broken had that ended his '09 season in August.
"I want to prove to myself and to the organization that the player in '09 is who they're going to get in '11, instead of the immature player from '10," Morgan said. "I left Tony Plush behind."
"Tony Plush," he said, grinning. "That's [an alter ego] from back in the day. Me and my friend. It's like Jekyll and Hyde.
"It got to the point where it was time to grow up. It's time to turn into a true professional. It's time to kick some ass."