- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

All those fans who remember when their disciplinarian Little League coach would get in their face and not let them have a juice pack after a bad game would have loved the scene in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse before Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs - the first under interim manager Jim Riggleman.

All the Nationals players stood in front of their lockers at attention for inspection. Then they went out on the field for close-order drills and were forced to take infield practice without gloves. Their hands were bleeding when they were done.

These were your new Law and Order Nationals, a group of players who just needed to get their minds right, just like Cool Hand Luke.

Here were the rules Riggleman set down to make sure they do:

Any player who drops a pop fly spends a night in the box.

Any player who throws the ball into the photographer’s well spends a night in the box.

Any player who misses a base like he is jumping over a puddle spends a night in the box.

Any player who throws to a base where there is no one to catch the ball spends a night in the box.

Any player who wears a jersey without the team’s name properly spelled spends a night in the box.

There you go, baby. These are the no-nonsense Nationals.

And if there was any doubt about the change in attitude around here, it disappeared when Riggleman walked into his pregame news conference carrying a bat in his hand.

Jim Riggleman, the walking boss.

None of this really happened, of course - save for Riggleman carrying a bat into the news conference. Here’s why: “I walked in with it because I knew if I put it down, I wouldn’t be able to find it,” he said.

No, you would be hard-pressed to find much difference in the atmosphere before Thursday night’s game compared with any of the 410 games Manny Acta managed before he was fired Sunday and replaced with Riggleman, his bench coach.

“Nothing’s changed,” one player said. “We just traded Manny for Pat” Corrales, who takes over as bench coach.

The Washington Misfits may play better under Riggleman than they did for Acta. It would take a monumental effort not to play better than the 26-61 mark they finished with at the All-Star break. And you have to root for Riggleman, a good, decent baseball man like Acta, to do well, especially since this is his homecoming. He grew up in Rockville rooting for the Washington Senators.

“Being here is icing on the cake, but managing anywhere is an honor and a privilege,” he said. “Major league coaching jobs are precious, and a lot of things had to happen for me to be here. My emotions are very mixed because of the situation with Manny, but to manage here is the best-case scenario.”

If managing is an honor and a privilege, Riggleman, 56, has been so honored three other times as the skipper of the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and last year’s cleanup duties with the Seattle Mariners. Think about this one: If Riggleman had fared just a few games worse than the 36-54 record he posted after taking over the Mariners’ job last season, he would have cost the Nationals the No. 1 draft pick this year. That may or may not mean anything, based on whether the Nationals can find Stephen Strasburg’s phone number.

The mixed emotions, of course, are because Riggleman knows what Acta went through this season and realizes he was not dealt a cool hand.

“I called Manny and left him a message, and he got back to me,” Riggleman said. “We talked Monday for quite a while. It is an unfortunate situation that I have been in before. Joe Torre has been in it…. I know better days for Manny are ahead. To me, he is an outstanding manager, and I reinforced that with him as we were losing ballgames. I kept telling him what a great job he was doing.”

Meet the new warden, same as the old warden.

Ryan Zimmerman had a throwing error in the third inning. He spends a night in the box.

Sean Burnett had an error in the ninth that allowed a run to score, and he also threw a wild pitch. He spends a night in the box.

And just as they did in 61 games this year for Manny Acta, the Nationals lost Thursday night for Jim Riggleman, this one a 6-2 beating. No juice packs for anyone.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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