Washington Nationals Send Lastings Milledge to Triple-A

Dave Nichols@@DaveNicholsDSPSenior Analyst IApril 15, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 10: Outfielder Lastings Milledge #85 of Washington Nationals grimmaces after he is hit by an inside pitch against the Atlanta Braves April 10, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The words in the two-sentence press release were terse, and there was no rationale announced officially behind the move:

The Washington Nationals today optioned outfielder Lastings Milledge to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League. Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

Milledge started the season 4-for-24 with just one run scored, one stolen base, no home runs, and one BRI in seven games from the leadoff spot in the order.  From the very day manager Manny Acta proclaimed Milledge the leadoff hitter in Spring Training, Milledge swore to be "an aggressive leadoff hitter." 
True to his word, the 24-year-old walked once in seven games.
In addition to the rough start at the plate, Milledge has had several misadventures in the field. On Opening Day, he misplayed a well-hit ball into an inside-the-park home run for former Nat Emilio Bonifacio. 
His inexperience and lack of preparation on the field have been evident all along, though.
In a fan question-and-answer session last summer, Milledge admitted that he has trouble picking the ball up off the bat, usually waiting until the ball rises out of the upper deck to tell which way the ball is moving.  He is positioned on a batter-by-batter basis by his outfield coaches from the top step of the dugout.
All of this is a backdrop to his two most recent off-field transgressionsMilledge reportedly missed a team meeting the Sunday before Opening Day because it was his birthday, and he was late reporting to the stadium for the Nationals' home opener this past Monday.
Coupled with his struggles in the field and at bat, it shouldn't come as a shock that Washington sent Milledge to the minors to learn how to be a Major Leaguer.
It's up to Milledge now.  He can either go down and prove why the Nats went out and traded for him in the first place, or he can go down and sulk and eventually get discarded.
Milledge is not the first player in the history of the game to be labelled as "can't miss" but never reach his potential due to attitude.  He still has plenty of time to realize that potential, but it has been obvious to those watching with a more than casual eye this season that Milledge's demeanor has devolved since he arrived last offseason.

The Nationals front office was supportive of Milledge in his reassignment, careful to say this was baseball-related and not in any way a disciplinary measure. 
But that's the stuff of bargaining agreements, players associations, and agents. 
They hope Milledge takes this not as a demotion, but as an opportunity to work on the things he needs to in order to become a Major League center fielder, a leadoff hitter, and a contributing member of the organization.

One more thing this move does: It puts everyone on notice. From manager Manny Acta all the way down to whomever is called up in Milledge's place.

We'll have to wait and see until Wednesday, but we have to assume this means Elijah Dukes becomes the everyday center fielder, with Austin Kearns and Josh Willingham splitting time in right.
But with Kearns just 3-for-19 to start the season, you have to wonder how long his leash is going to be.

And who, pray tell, leads off now for the Washington Nationals? 
Cristian Guzman is red-hot (.515 in seven games) but tweaked a hamstring on his fifth hit of the game Monday afternoon.  If he has to miss some time, who knows who hits first?
Whoever it is, he'd have to try to be worse than 4-for-24.


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