Morgan to start, lead off for Nats
MIAMI -- Nyjer Morgan had no complaints about getting traded to the team with baseball's worst record. Instead, he found it flattering.
With that, he and the Washington Nationals are getting along just fine.
The Nationals welcomed Morgan and left-hander Sean Burnett on Wednesday, the duo joining Washington shortly before a series finale at Florida. When Washington opens a three-game set at home against Atlanta on Friday, Morgan will bat leadoff and play center field, the Nationals hoping his speed provided a much-needed spark.
"It feels good when someone wants you real bad," Morgan said, moments after putting on his new Nationals uniform and cap for the first time. "And being in my situation, being a 33rd-rounder, I'm not even supposed to be here."
Morgan, who turns 29 on Thursday, was traded less than halfway through a promising first season as a starter. He hit .277 with two homers and 27 RBIs for Pittsburgh, and his 18 stolen bases ranked fifth in the National League entering Wednesday's games.
"We're pumped to have him," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "It's something that we lack here, his athleticism, his speed and from what I understand, his character and personality is going to be good to have on our club. It's good to have people like that."
Washington acquired Morgan and Burnett on Tuesday, sending outfielder Lastings Milledge and right-hander Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates. To make room for both newly acquired players on the 25-man roster, the Nationals optioned outfielder Elijah Dukes to Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday morning.
Dukes hit .244 with six home runs and 30 RBIs this season for Washington. With Morgan set to have an everyday role and Josh Willingham hitting .400 in his last 19 games entering Wednesday, Dukes was simply going to become the odd man out in Washington's outfield rotation.
"It's strictly a baseball move," Acta said. "He was not going to get playing time here. ... We don't want to have him up here and not play him."
Willie Harris, who briefly was in the leadoff role for the Nationals, will go back to a utility spot once Morgan gets into the everyday lineup, Acta said.
Burnett, Pittsburgh's top pick in 2000, is 1-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 38 games. The 26-year-old has pitched in 96 games the last two seasons, making the transition to the bullpen.
Morgan's trade was rumored for days, but Burnett said he had no idea he was going to be part of the swap until Tuesday afternoon. He and Morgan had a whirlwind 24 hours, arriving in South Florida about 90 minutes before the 12:10 p.m. first pitch.
"All I know is Pittsburgh," Burnett said. "I was drafted by them in 2000 and kind of grew up with them. It's all I know, so I'll try to keep my emotions in check. It's probably going to feel like a big-league debut when I do get out here for the Nationals, but I'll relax and just pitch. Baseball's baseball, no matter what jersey you're wearing."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press