WASHINGTON -- After watching his team lose to the Marlins, 6-5, at Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon, manager Jim Riggleman held a team meeting with his players, because he felt they didn't give it their best effort for nine innings.
Instead of Riggleman doing the talking, he had his coaching staff express the feelings of the manager. The meeting lasted 30 minutes.
"I wouldn't say there wasn't a need for the meeting," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We played a bad game. We battled back. We have to start playing nine innings. That was the message."
According to two sources, Riggleman was upset by the way the Nationals played during the first two innings. It had nothing to do with the fact that the Nationals had two errors by the second inning. The skipper didn't like the body language of some of the players. For example, after right-hander Jordan Zimmermann threw the ball away trying to pick off Emilio Bonifacio at second base, no one went after the ball hard enough to prevent Bonifacio from scoring to give the Marlins a 3-0 lead.
"It kind of confirms what I was watching there for a couple of innings," Riggleman said. "When every coach gets to speak up and confirm it, it's not coming from the same person, so the meeting took longer.
"I thought our energy level, our body language early in the game was not up to the standards it takes to go to the next level. I just felt we were not getting after it."
Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton proved to be too much for the Nationals. The game went back and forth from the second inning to the fifth. Stanton, who went 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs, did most of his damage in the early innings off Zimmermann.
In the second inning, Stanton took Zimmermann's 3-2 pitch and homered over the left-field wall to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Lack of defense proved to be costly for Washington. With Cameron Maybin on third, Emilio Bonifacio hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, who threw the ball past first baseman Adam Dunn and allowed Maybin to score the second run of the game. The official scorer awarded Bonifacio an RBI single on the play.
The Nationals made it a one-run game in the bottom of the second off right-hander Chris Volstad, when Ivan Rodriguez drove in two runs with a single to left field.
Zimmermann simply had problems getting Stanton out. In the third inning, Stanton hit his second homer of the game, a two-run shot over the left-field wall to make it a 5-2 game.
"Right now, I'm just kind of going in streaks," Stanton said. "[I've] just got to keep a little more consistent and finish the season strong. If I just relax and have good at-bats for a whole season, then who knows how many [home runs] I'll hit. You can't really predict home runs."
Zimmermann would last three inning, allowing five runs (four earned] on five hits. He would throw 80 pitches, with just 50 for strikes.
"The Marlins got him and that's what happened " Riggleman said. "Stanton got a couple of pitches to hit and didn't miss it. He was not locating his pitches as well as he is capable of doing. They have a good ballclub. If you don't pitch well, they're going to get you.
"When Jordan is struggling a little bit to throw some strikes and the innings get longer, [not being ready to play can happen], but it shouldn't happen. We have to make the players aware that this is what I see, this is what the coaches see, that is what [general manger] Mike Rizzo sees, this is what the fans see. If anybody in the room thought that was acceptable, then they need to be made aware that we don't think that is acceptable."
In the bottom of the third, Desmond scored on a single by Zimmerman to make it a two-run game. But Nationals reliever Miguel Batista allowed Florida to increase the lead by three in the fourth inning when Bonifacio scored on a Dan Uggla groundout.
In the bottom of the fourth and fifth, the Nationals scored a combined two runs off Volstad. In the fourth, Rodriguez drove in his third run of the game as he grounded out, scoring Roger Bernadina. In the following inning, Bernadina drove in the last run on a check-swing single, driving in Zimmerman.
The Nationals would fall short as the Marlins' relievers shut them out the rest of the way.
"We have to play better," Desmond said. "We have to expect more of ourselves. It's not over yet. We just got swept by the Marlins and are coming off a bad series before that. You could imagine what the tone was after the game. [The manager] was trying to make the point that we have to play better."
Washington has lost five consecutive games which dropped its record to 60-83. Riggleman made it clear that he wants the losing to stop, but the Nationals have to figure out who the keepers are before going forward.
"I think the losing wears on you, but it's a 162-game schedule, it's a nine-inning ballgame," Riggleman said. "That's what you sign up for, that's what you give. You get 25 guys up until Sept. 1, and whatever we have -- 32 after that. Until we get everybody on the same page, it takes a great effort everyday to get out of where we are.
"You cannot be in the same class as the Padres, Giants, Yankees and Tampa Bay until you have everybody on board pulling the same way, putting personal statistics and all that nonsense behind them. Until everyone is pulled in the same direction and getting after it every day, it's not going to show up in the win column.
"If you have an elite team, you can have a day where the energy level is not where it is, and it goes under the radar. It doesn't go under the radar if you lose 100 games for couple of years in a row. We are going to figure out who the keepers are, and figure out who is going to be a part of this club in the future, and help get [us] out of the doldrums."