Riggleman introduced as Nats' skipper
New manager ready to help team move in right direction
WASHINGTON -- Jim Riggleman had his first news conference as Nationals manager Wednesday, and he acknowledged that the team needs to improve its defense.
Riggleman also believes Washington has the talent to win its share of games. The Nationals enter their four-game series against the Cubs -- which begins Thursday -- with a 26-61 record, the worst in baseball.
After dismissing skipper Manny Acta late Sunday night, acting general manager Mike Rizzo said he was looking for a new voice to manage the team. He believes Riggleman is the right guy. Riggleman has a reputation for being an emotional manager, but he said he was not going to change the philosophy Acta implemented.
"We are not going to reinvent the game," Riggleman said. "We have to find a way to get different results. I don't think we can change a lot. I know Manny wouldn't change anything that he did. I wouldn't change anything that he did. I'm just going to continue to pound the message. Maybe coming from someone else, maybe they will respond, maybe they won't. We have to try it."
This will be Riggleman's fourth managerial job. He has previously led the Padres, Cubs and Mariners. He has a 522-652 career record. His best season as a skipper was in 1998, when he guided the Cubs to the playoffs after they won a Wild Card tiebreaker over the Giants. The team lost to the Braves in the National League Division Series, 3-0.
Riggleman said if players don't play hard for him, he is not afraid to put them on the bench. He has already done it in the past. As the Padres' skipper, for example, he took outfielder Phil Plantier out of a game at Shea Stadium for not being on second base after the ball Plantier hit dropped for a base hit in the infield.
"I feel like I'm a bit of a softy," Riggleman said. "I think I'm easy in the sense that if players are not playing well, I understand that. It's a tough game. But if they are not playing hard, that irks me -- if they are not respectful of the game or respectful of the uniform, the fans or the organization. If they do that, then it's a problem.
"Sometimes that has happened. I had a few incidents with the players. I had to address it, and that comes out because the camera doesn't miss much and somebody thinks I'm fiery.
After the news conference, Riggleman held a team meeting, which lasted almost an hour. Riggleman told his players to give a better effort on the field and play better defense.
"[Riggleman] told us to come out and be prepared -- go out night in and night out and bring 100 percent every night," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "We are going to make our errors, which is going to happen, but at least go out there knowing you left it all out there on the field and don't have any second doubts about it.
"We want our defense to clean up. It has to be a collective unit, and we all have to encourage one another to go out there and understand what it's going to take to be a great defensive team. We have to make slow strides. I think we can definitely do that."
First baseman Nick Johnson, who has been known as a man of few words during his time with the Nationals and Expos, spoke out and said a change needed to be made after the team's disappointing record in the first half.
"Something had to happen. We were [losing badly] every night," Johnson said. "We just have to turn it around and go out on the field and play better ball, picking it up for the pitchers and scoring more runs. With a runner on third, we have to get him in. Those runs add up at the end of the game."
Riggleman then led a team practice that lasted for an hour before calling it a day. The infielders took ground balls, while the rest of the position players took batting practice.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.