GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Outfielder Nyjer Morgan came to camp determined not to let his alter ego Tony Plush, or an ego of any kind, ruin his chances of making the Indians’ Opening Day roster.
“I wanted to prove something. I wanted to show that Tony Plush, that’s just a fun-loving part of the game,” he said. “I wanted to show who Nyjer Morgan is, a hard-working individual who loves competing and loves coming to the ballpark and being with his boys.”
Morgan succeeded. Signed to a minor-league free-agent contract, he impressed General Manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona with his work ethic, energy and professionalism.
Morgan was rewarded Monday morning, told he’d made the Tribe’s 25-man roster. Helping his situation was the decision to place center fielder Michael Bourn on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring suffered March 16.
Bourn could miss the first four games of the regular season. That would mean he would be ready for the April 5 home game against the Minnesota Twins. The Indians open the season March 31 at Oakland.
“All of our goals are to have him back being Bournie, not half of Bournie, not part of him,” Francona said. “We understand if we asked him to play, he’d play. No doubt about that. He’d go out there with one leg hanging off. But we need to have his speed impact our club, so we need to try to build up properly so he can really help us.”
Bourn said he was scheduled to take batting practice Monday and perhaps run the bases today. To this point, he’s done nothing but straight-line running since he felt a twinge going from first to third in a game against the San Francisco Giants. He underwent surgery on the same hamstring in October. Bourn said his first goal was to push to be ready for Opening Day, then logic took over.
“Then I went home and thought about it and said, ‘That shouldn’t be my goal. I’ll go when I’m ready,’ ” Bourn said. “I’d rather have my leg healthy and be ready to play for the long haul.”
The decisions on Bourn and Morgan were among a flurry of roster moves. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall also earned a spot on the Opening Day roster and right-hander Trevor Bauer was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, leaving Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin to compete for the final spot in the rotation.
Bourn was consulted on the decision to go on the disabled list. After he left the conference room where Francona and Antonetti were talking to players, Morgan was summoned. He was unable to conceal his smile when he emerged. Morgan, 33, was signed in January, presumably in case Bourn had post-surgery hamstring issues.
Morgan came to camp like a “man on a mission,” Francona said. He spent 2013 with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of the Japan Central League determined to put aside any questions about his reputation.
“I wanted to leave all that malarkey behind me and show the new me, the new veteran,” Morgan said. “Don’t let Tony Plush overtake who Nyjer Morgan is.”
Francona said he didn’t let preconceived notions affect how he regarded Morgan and said in camp Morgan has been “nothing but respectful.”
“I don’t think we would be doing our jobs correctly if we held it against Nyjer for getting thrown out of a game in 2008,” Francona said. “What we go on is what we see, how our guys behave, how they respect the game and the way they work. This kid has been a joy to be around.”
But until Bourn’s injury, Francona wasn’t sure there was a place for Morgan. Morgan also missed a few days this spring with a calf strain.
“We watched him the first three or four weeks of games and we were all impressed with how he was playing, but it was hard to look up at that board and see a place where he would fit,” Francona said.
Morgan realizes his status might change when Bourn returns. But he’s trying to let anxiety go.
“Back in the past I put a lot of pressure on myself, not understanding the game and who I was as a person and who I am as a ballplayer,” he said. “I wanted to prove to everybody that I’m a great player and can help this organization. I’ve worked hard this offseason, mentally, physically … I feel really prepared. I feel like that I’ve earned this spot.”
Morgan wasn’t totally ready to let the fun-loving part of himself go. Asked if Tony Plush made the team, he said, “Yeah, he made it. Yeah, he’s here. I’ll know when to bring him out. I’ll keep him in the closet for a little bit.”
Told that, Francona laughed and said, “We didn’t need to hear that. We only have room for 25.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.