The Washington Times - June 1, 2011, 01:15PM

Before the Nationals’ 10-2 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman called a meeting with his team.

It was something he does every year at the 1/3 point of the season but the Nationals struggles the past few weeks certainly added to the timing of the address.

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“I just wanted to reinforce to the guys that look, we’ve played 1/3 of the season and that’s a lot of baseball but there’s way more left. Let’s put that behind us, what’s happened so far, any negativity, any feeling about our ballclub that we’re not hitting, we’ve been doing better. We can feel it, we can sense it, we can feel it coming but let’s do what we do on that field because we play hard. Let’s do that and let’s bring that into the clubhouse too. Let’s be united in this clubhouse and keep getting after it. Don’t let a few losses here take us down and get us into a run that we’ve fallen into the last few years.”

“It was just a reminder that we’ve got talent in here and it’s starting to surface, especially the offense is starting to come along, so let’s just have fun and play baseball.”

The Nationals have lost 10 of their last 13 games and six of their last 12 by one-run and their .233 is the second-worst mark in the National League. It’s been clearly improving over the past few games, but Riggleman felt the time was right to remind his team that negativity can become contagious.

“It’s just a feeling you get that guys are getting frustrated,” he said. “Their numbers aren’t there, we’re finding ways to lose games, heck with all that. It’s baseball. This is not the cure for cancer. Let’s get out there and play baseball and when it’s all said and done we come in here, we look ourselves in the mirror and we know we left it all on the field. I think more often than not we’re going to be happy with the results.”

– Riggleman also addressed a column in Tuesday’s Washington Post that he is a “small-ball” manager — a term he called “unfair” and “ridiculous,” admitting that it’s irritating to him to be labeled as such in a derogatory manner.

I’ll let Riggleman explain it:

“It’s been brought to my attention by a couple people that there was some reference to me as a small-ball manager or whatever and I can tell you that there’s no intention on my part, except to manage the players I have and if I have players who can run, I want them to run. If I have players who can’t run, I don’t want them to run. If I have players who need to put down a sac bunt then that’s what we do. I love that kind of baseball but I certainly love the home run too.

“We’re at the midpoint in the National League with sacrifice bunts. We bunt no more, no less than anybody else really. Bunting and small-ball, whatever, I’ve never used that phrase myself, I just think you manage the game situations. If it calls for a bunt, we bunt. Most of the time when players bunt they’re bunting on their own if it’s for a base hit but as this comes up, people try to make an issue of it and it’s a little irritating because nobody’s ever asked me about it.

“I understand it’s written about but someone who unenlightened about strategy of baseball chooses to put a label on you as a small ball manager and that’s just unfair. It’s ridiculous. As I see and look at numbers every day, I know the Philadelphia Phillies have a very powerful offense, they have the extact same numbers of sac bunts as we do. The St. Louis Cardinals have the most of anybody. It’s ridiculous. It’s people trying to label someone in a negative manner whereas quite often it’s the other way. People internally will suggest ‘How about let’s bunt a little more, let’s run a little more,’ and there was reference to Ian Desmond has a sore leg because he ran too much early in the year, which, I guess we can try to get Carl Lewis on the team and say please don’t run but if you have talented people you let them play.”

Riggleman was slightly incorrect, but his point remained. The Nationals have bunted 25 times once more that Philadelphia, but the Cardinals, who also lead the league in batting average, do indeed have a league-leading 31 sacrifice bunts. The league average is 24.

Riggleman is a relatively mild mannered guy in his dealings with the media but it was clear he took offense to this label.