The Jim Riggleman Era, as short and as indistinguishable as it might be, has begun for the Washington Nationals. Now it’s up to the team’s new interim manager to make it count for something.
There’s not likely to be much on the line except pride, a run at avoiding the major leagues’ worst record for the second consecutive year and a bid not to become the National League’s worst team since the 1962 New York Mets. But Riggleman, who won just enough games as the interim manager of the Seattle Mariners last year for the Nationals to wind up with the majors’ worst record - and subsequently, the chance to take Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 overall pick - pledged in his first news conference to do his best to turn things around as Nationals manager on Wednesday.
“I’m going to talk to them about ‘let’s get refocused,’ ” Riggleman said. “We’ve got a lot of season left. There’s a lot of opportunity to make a move in the standings. We’re not looking to leapfrog three or four clubs. But let’s chase a club, whoever’s ahead of us, let’s get after that club, see if we can close in on them. We do that with hard work.”
Riggleman, who has nine years of major league managerial experience, was effusive in his praise of predecessor Manny Acta. He said there are “really good days ahead for Manny managing in the major leagues,” adding he and the rest of the team’s coaching staff let Acta down.
He didn’t propose any major changes from Acta’s philosophy other than a few tweaks to the lineup and the possibility of running more with center fielder Nyjer Morgan at the top of the order.
The crux of Riggleman’s influence, if it follows what was outlined Wednesday, appears to be on the attitude in the clubhouse. He echoed the sentiments from Monday’s news conference, relaying his own experience from when he was fired as manager of the Chicago Cubs because the team felt a different voice might be necessary, and he vowed to remove whatever sheen of nonchalance exists around losses as they pile up.
“Losing should hurt. Winning’s hard,” Riggleman said. “It’s easy to lose. You can lose and just accept it. But that’s unacceptable.”
He tried to start that process Wednesday, meeting with the team for almost an hour before a mandatory workout that had been scheduled before Acta was fired.
Because one of the major knocks on Acta was that he didn’t discipline players enough or show more fire during games, Riggleman has been painted in some corners to be a departure from his predecessor in how he handles players.
He clarified that somewhat Wednesday, saying he’s easy to get along with if he gets a good effort but adding he will chastise players for a lack of effort.
“I’ve kind of heard that [I’m fiery] in the last day or two, but I think I’m a bit of a softy. I think I’m pretty easy,” Riggleman said. “If players are not playing well, I understand that. It’s a tough game. But if they’re not playing hard, that irks me. … I’ve had a few incidences with players where I’ve had to address that, and that comes out because the camera doesn’t miss much and somebody thinks I’m fiery or whatever. I have no problem if you miss a ball. But if you don’t chase it after you miss it, then I’ve got a problem.”
For the Rockville native, there could be a benefit in the long run if he can coax some respectability out of the Nationals in the season’s second half.
He talked Wednesday about attending Washington Senators games as a kid and said the Nationals were the organization he most wanted to work for if the Mariners didn’t retain him as manager.
When Acta called him about the bench coach job last year, Riggleman said he would jump at the chance if Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik didn’t offer him a job.
Nationals acting general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday that Riggleman will receive consideration for the permanent manager’s job. Riggleman hasn’t had a permanent major league managerial position since the Cubs fired him after the 1999 season, but he knows he’ll have to show the Nationals something to change that.
“Would I like to have something more long term? I think all managers would like to have your club in spring training, get it started in spring training and run with it,” Riggleman said. “But I would have done that in 2000 if I didn’t lose enough in ‘99. I didn’t get to take my team back in 2000. Ultimately, you’ve got to win some ballgames and create your longevity the way some great managers have done.”