09/17/09 12:02 AM ET
Nats struggle in loss to Phillies
Riggleman says team is better than poor record
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
The mood in the clubhouse was so bad after the game that Ryan Zimmerman uncharacteristically blew off requests by two reporters for an interview.
The actions by Zimmerman came after interim manager Jim Riggleman lectured his team and told his players that they were not paying attention to the little details of the game.
Riggleman also reminded his players that they were better than their 50-95 record indicated.
"We have a good ballclub, and this good ballclub just found ways to shoot itself in the foot and lose a ballgame, which adds to the record, the negativity and allows people to write those [negative] things," Riggleman said.
"Our record does not indicate the quality we have. That ballgame did not indicate the ballgame that it was. It's 2-0 for a long time, and now it ends up 6-1, and it looks like the worst team in baseball again. I'm just reminding our players that when you make those many mistakes in a ballgame, you are going to allow those things to be said, and we have to be accountable for that."
The Nationals had Phillies starter Joe Blanton on the ropes in the first two innings, but Washington couldn't get a runner to touch home plate.
In the first inning, Washington had runners on first and second with one out, but Adam Dunn flew out to left fielder Raul Ibanez and Josh Willingham lined out to shortstop Jimmy Rollins to end the threat.
In the next inning, the Nationals had runners on first and third with one out. Right-hander Livan Hernandez came to the plate and Riggleman wanted him to swing the bat because Hernandez is a good hitting pitcher, but Hernandez chose to bunt the ball because he didn't want to hit into a double play.
Hernandez bunted the ball in front of home plate. Ian Desmond ran halfway toward the plate, but tried to go back to third before being thrown out by catcher Carlos Ruiz. The move caught Desmond and third-base coach Pat Listach by surprise, according to Riggleman.
"That wasn't Desi's fault," Riggleman said. "We wanted Livan swinging the bat there. When he bunted, that caught Desmond by surprise. He wasn't sure if he could go or not. That was just a situation where I'm trusting Livan to swing the bat.
"He is such a good hitter that I want him to swing the bat. When he swung the bat [in the fourth inning], he hit a double. He has done it a couple of times where he is convinced that he can get the bunt down past the pitcher and second baseman. I prefer if he swings the bat."
Willie Harris was the next hitter, and he walked to load the bases before Cristian Guzman grounded out to end the inning. The Nationals ended up going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
The Nationals couldn't even get it right on defense in the first inning. With runners on first and third and two outs, Philadelphia tried a double steal, and it worked to perfection. Ryan Howard stole second, while Chase Utley went home without a throw by Guzman.
In retrospect, catcher Wil Nieves said he should not have thrown to second and let Howard steal the base.
"I know Howard is not a fast runner," Nieves said. "I was trying to throw him out to help Livo and get out of that inning. Maybe I shouldn't have thrown it. I thought it was a close play."
Philadelphia scored its second run of the game in the sixth inning because the Nationals couldn't turn the double play. With runners on first and third, Pedro Feliz hit a perfect double-play ball to Guzman at short. Guzman made a perfect throw to Desmond to get the force at second, but Desmond threw the ball away trying to get Feliz at first, allowing Ibanez to score.
The Nationals had runners in scoring position in the sixth inning, but a baserunning blunder by Justin Maxwell squashed their chance to score the first run for the Nationals.
With runners on first and second, Nieves hit a soft liner to Howard at first base. Howard caught the ball and tagged Maxwell to end the inning.
"The details of the game, we have to do a better job," Riggleman said. "We can't be getting doubled off. We have to play cleaner baseball. When you are playing a team like the Phillies, it's going to catch up to you, and it finally did."
It would get worse in the bottom of the seventh, as reliever Jason Bergmann gave up a grand slam to Jayson Werth. Bergmann wanted to throw a slider down and away.
"I made a mistake," Bergmann said. "I threw the wrong pitch in the wrong spot. I was ahead of him. I should have thrown my pitch. I was trying to throw a bouncing slider down and away. We all know it was not a down-and-away slider. It was a hanger. I threw him one before that and he had a look at it. He could see it coming."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.