Willingham's scramble gives Nats 5-4 win

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Jim Riggleman is typically careful to avoid painting himself as an alternative to Manny Acta, as tempting as it might be to pigeonhole him as such. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals winning a game like they did on Sunday early in the season.

After blowing a 2-0 lead, Washington took a shot at tying the game in the sixth inning, only to get Josh Willingham thrown out at home on a botched suicide squeeze. That’s a play the Nationals have rarely tried this season.

Then, when Drew Sutton lobbed the ball back into the infield following Ryan Zimmerman’s pinch-hit single in the eighth, Willingham broke for home, plowing into catcher Ryan Hanigan as he leapt to receive cutoff man Joey Votto’s throw.

“He’s just a ballplayer,” Riggleman said. “The aggressiveness he showed there, you can’t teach that. That was all him. He’s been doing a lot of great things for us. That’s just another one that he did.”

Maybe it’s a willingness to run more, or maybe it’s just an attitude, but the Nationals have been more aggressive under Riggleman than Acta, especially in a stretch where they’ve now won 11 of 14 after a 5-4 win over the Reds on Sunday.

Riggleman said afterward the Nationals haven’t hit-and-run much more than they did earlier this season, nor have they tried things like the squeeze play. The big difference, as I can see it, is that Acta preached not giving away outs above all else. That’s certainly not a philosophy Riggleman would disagree with, but he seems willing to take a few more chances in the right situations. And while the play that won the game was all Willingham, it happened in the context of a team that’s play more hard-nosed baseball lately.

So the Nationals finish the road trip 3-3, after losing their first three games. Their next game is Tuesday night against the Rockies, but there will certainly be bigger events to happen between now and then.

We’ll be back with updates on the Strasburg negotiations throughout the day Monday, so make sure you check back.

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