Riggleman, Nats set sights on winning
Team takes blame for first half; new skipper defines focus
Two days after the official announcement that Manny Acta was relieved of his duties as the Nationals' manager, Washington's players commended the job their former leader did.
But, as outfielder Josh Willingham bluntly put it: "When you're 26-61, something's got to change."
In a changing of the guard, newly appointed manager Jim Riggleman was introduced to the press Wednesday prior to his first team meeting.
But the Nats' players have put the onus on themselves to turn around the season. They blame themselves for Acta's departure.
"It's not Manny's fault that we lost games, but that's why he got [let go]," Willingham said.
"We are the ones on the field, going out there and not playing good ball," first baseman Nick Johnson added. "We have 20-something wins and 60 losses. It's not cutting it. "
Riggleman mentioned that he wants the Nationals to have their sights set on a team above them in the standings and eventually catch them.
"You can't throw away the first half, but what you can do is play for something," Adam Dunn said following a team meeting and workout. "My goal is to beat up on every single team like we got beat up on in the first half."
According to Riggleman, there are no drastic philosophical changes the new manager is going to make from the prior regime. Aside from potentially tinkering with the lineup, the only difference fans will see on the field is if the Nationals improve their play.
"We just have to turn it around and go out on the field and play better ball, picking it up for the pitchers, scoring more runs," Johnson said. "With a runner on third, we have to get him in. Those runs add up at the end of the game."
Fundamentals is a buzzword in the Washington clubhouse. For a team with a league-high 82 errors and a league-worst .975 fielding percentage, making the routine plays is step one towards improvement.
Riggleman also emphasized effort. He directed his players to have complete concentration both when at-bat and in the field.
None of these concepts are novel, but their reinforcement in light of a change is something the Nationals may have needed. No players were ready to blame Acta for the job he did, and they were quick to blame themselves for letting him down. "I thought Manny was a very good manager," Dunn said. "I thought Manny did everything he could, and he'll be in the game for a long time, doing very good things. You can't [get rid of] 25 guys. It's a shame that somebody has to lose their job, but baseball is a business.
"Anytime you cost somebody a job, it's a terrible feeling. Essentially, we got him [let go] because we didn't perform to expectations, so that's a tough pill to swallow."
Mark Selig is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.