- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MILWAUKEE | After each of the 12 games he has managed for the Washington Nationals, interim manager Jim Riggleman has addressed his players, win or lose.

It’s something of a departure from the typical workaday nature of baseball, where each game is but one episode in a 162-part story, not a major event. But Riggleman has reasoned that the best way to coax the team out of the 26-61 tailspin it was in when he took over was to spend a little time each night rehashing the good and the bad.

It’s not something Riggleman plans to continue for all of the season’s final 62 games. But so far, it appears to be working. The Nationals are 6-7 under Riggleman and have won six of their last eight games.

“The attention to detail the coaching staff and myself preach about, they’re going to start buying into it,” Riggleman said. “It’s a real good-looking offense on paper. But this offense should’ve scored more runs to this point than it has, and sometimes the details will help us.”

Riggleman’s talking points range from good work he wanted to point out about the game to things the Nationals can learn from the opposing team. He’s aware he won’t be able to do it all season - “you can’t go in and wear them out every night after a ballgame,” he said - but he has used the approach with most of the teams he has managed over the years and said he’s trying to do it until the Nationals are more stable.

“Throughout the time I’ve managed, I always felt that if we lost a ballgame, I wanted to make sure I was visible in the clubhouse,” Riggleman said. “When we win a game, I don’t spend too much time in there. … Through talking to them, I think maybe they realize I’m certainly not going to quit, so they better not quit.”

Slams still sweet

By the time he’d arrived at Miller Park on Tuesday afternoon, Josh Willingham had already done the round of national TV interviews - MLB Network and ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” on Monday night, “ESPN First Take” on Tuesday morning - and received the parade of congratulatory text messages and phone calls.

The feeling of the outfielder’s twin grand slams from the night before, however, was just as sweet.

It still hadn’t sunk in for Willingham that what he did - hitting grand slams in back-to-back innings during a 14-6 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night - was rarer than the perfect game Mark Buehrle threw last week. He is the sixth player in major league history to hit slams in back-to-back innings and the 13th to hit two grand slams in the same game. By comparison, there have been 18 perfect games in baseball history.

The ball from the second home run, which clubhouse manager Mike Wallace had annotated with stats and put in a glass case, was still on display in Willingham’s locker Tuesday. He said his collection of baseball collectibles ranges from jerseys and autographs from other players to lineup cards and baseballs from his first major league homer and walk-off shots he hit.

This memento, though, will have a prominent place in Willingham’s collection.

“A day later, it’s just as special,” Willingham said.

Day off for Johnson

First baseman Nick Johnson, who has started all but two games this month, was out of the lineup Tuesday, part of Riggleman’s plan to give all of his starters a day off during a 25-day, 25-game stretch that ends Aug. 10.

“All of them will get a day here and there,” Riggleman said. “We’re just trying to keep the other guys sharp.”

Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors for much of the season, and his absence from the lineup raised suspicion early Tuesday afternoon the Nationals might have struck a deal. But the first baseman went through his normal pregame routine with hitting coach Rick Eckstein.

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