Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett will return to Pittsburgh tonight as members of the Washington Nationals, and they will do so feeling plenty good about their own status.
And, from the sound of it, they will feel badly for their former team and its followers.
"It's funny, but Nyjer and I knew this was going to happen," Burnett said last night from Milwaukee, shortly after hearing that the Pirates continued their trading binge by sending away John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. "They're the laughingstock of baseball right now. They've gotten rid of everybody. They won't keep anybody around. Some of the guys here, they don't understand it, but Nyjer and I knew this was coming."
Burnett and Morgan each said the Pirates' trades have been a hot topic in the Washington clubhouse, especially those involving Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez.
"What I keep telling the guys here is that the hardest part is that Pittsburgh, as a sports town, is unbelievable," Burnett said. "With what the Steelers and Penguins have done, they're dying for a winner in baseball, too. They're dying to cheer the Pirates on. And now, they don't have anybody they even know. Guys like Jack and Freddy, the faces of the franchise, players they're supposed to be locking up, they're all gone. What's going to bring people to the ballpark now?"
He allowed for the possibility that the trades could benefit the Pirates in the long run.
"But, even if these trades do work out, you're not going to see these guys for a year or two, at least. That's the part that's got to be hard for the fans to understand. It's got to be tough."
Morgan, not nearly as outspoken through his career as Burnett, seemed to choose his words more carefully.
"I feel bad for the fans," Morgan said. "There are people in that city who know and love baseball. And it's the city of champions now. It's not right... I don't know. I don't want to go all crazy, so I'll just leave it at that. I'm happy with how things are going here."
He has ample reason to be, as does Burnett.
Morgan's 3-for-4 output in the Nationals' 7-3 loss to the Brewers yesterday at Miller Park, one that included two doubles and his 32nd steal, raised his season average to .310. More striking, he tied a Washington record for hits in a month with 40 and is batting .404 in July, all of that encompassing his time with the Nationals after the June 30 trade.
He also has a home run, six doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and 14 steals and 19 runs in those 25 games.
Asked what was going on, Morgan fairly shouted, "I'm just playing ball! Hey, this is what I know. This is it. I've got no answer for you. I'm a ballplayer, and I'm having so much fun. I feel like the leash is off now, like I'm coming into my own, you know?"
"They've welcomed us with open arms here, and it's been awesome."
Not many think of the Nationals as "awesome," given their 32-70 record that is worst in Major League Baseball. But they are sure to have a superior lineup to the Pirates this weekend, even though their pitching is not a match.
"I think it's going to be a good team really soon," Morgan said. "There's a lot of talent here. We're going to be good, man. The pieces are there. You'll see."
Part of the reason for that confidence, no doubt, is that Washington's greatest shortcoming in the first half was a disastrous bullpen, but that has settled of late, thanks in large part to Burnett.
His scoreless inning yesterday lowered his season ERA to 2.24, and that figure is 0.75 in 12 appearances with the Nationals. He has allowed only four hits in 41 at-bats for a .097 opponents' batting average, and he has 10 strikeouts and four walks in 12 innings.
That continues a trend Burnett had begun in Pittsburgh just before the trade.
"It's just like when I left," Burnett said. "I was just starting to get a feel for all my pitches, and here I am, a month later, and it's still going. Whenever I'm healthy, I can pitch. I've got no pain, the ball is moving, I'm keeping it down, and I'm throwing strikes."
Morgan and Burnett will face both of the players for whom they were traded, as the Pirates plan to promote outfielder Lastings Milledge from Class AAA Indianapolis, and reliever Joel Hanrahan already was in their bullpen.
Burnett does not sound as if he is lacking in motivation.
"We want to make them look stupid for making that trade," he said of the Pirates.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .