Hard work, communication Riggleman's stamp on Nats

BY foxsports • February 20, 2010

The framed color photograph rests on Jim Riggleman's desk in Space Coast Stadium, yet to take up permanent residence in a room the Washington Nationals manager rarely inhabits.

It shows Riggleman gathering his infielders and battery during a mound conference, one comforting outstretched arm resting across the pitcher's shoulder, the other draped reassuringly over the catcher.

The memento from a 2009 home game resembles a group hug and emphasizes the twin messages that characterize the 57-year-old Riggleman's tenure since Manny Acta was fired at last season's All-Star break. As Riggleman embarks on his first spring training at the helm of a team coming off a 103-loss season, the mantra is fresh in his mind.

Lesson one: We're all in this together.

Lesson two: Hard work eventually pays dividends.

``Last year, (Riggleman) took over a pretty volatile situation. Things weren't going so great, and I think he got the current shifted,'' said Nationals reliever Ron Villone, a 15-year major league veteran.

Ask Riggleman what stamp he's put on a team that went 33-42 after his ascension from bench coach and he sheepishly acknowledges he hasn't really had much time to contemplate his impact.

``I can't really put a phrase on it or reinvent it in any way,'' said Riggleman, who spent 2 1/2 hours on the field Saturday breaking down infield defenses with members of his coaching staff. ``It's just work and there will be a lot of it.''

Riggleman continued something Acta had begun - regular attention to fundamental drills. Weather-permitting, the Nationals were on the field early before home games working on cutoffs, rundowns and bunting.

It's a trend that will continue as long as Riggleman - who previously skippered the Cubs, Padres and Mariners - manages in Washington.

``There's 30 teams in baseball and everybody's going to use the word 'fundamentals.' We have to use it, too,'' Riggleman said. ``It's how much you work on those things. Everybody can talk about it, but we have to work on ... the details of the game.''

The manager further fostered a sense of camaraderie during postgame talks with his team, something that blossomed by accident because Riggleman was tired of seeing players quickly scatter after games to their iPods, cell phones and waiting families.

``I just felt like after a game you need to sit in your locker, stay in the clubhouse a little bit and reflect on the game, good, bad or indifferent. Let it sink in a little bit, what impact or lack of impact you just had on this ballgame instead of just jumping in the shower and leaving,'' Riggleman said.

The players, surprisingly, were all ears.

``With those words, you can go back home, think about it and come back the next day fresh and ready,'' said catcher Jesus Flores.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman quickly realized that Riggleman was teaching rather than preaching.

``He's all about accountability and respect for the game and that's huge for us,'' Zimmerman said. ``With a young team, you have to be accountable for actions. If you do something wrong, you get punished. If you make a mistake, you can't make it again. That's the biggest thing he did last year: (teach us) if you make a mistake, the whole team learns from it, not just the one person.''

Riggleman hopes those corrective moments are fewer and farther between in 2010. He's not wiping the slate clean, but he's also limiting talk about 2009's missteps.

``The guys who were here, I think a lot of them were very proud of the years they had - we had a Gold Glover in there, a guy with 200-plus innings, a 38-home run guy, two guys with 30-plus homers, a lot of pitchers who made their debuts in the big leagues and had some success,'' Riggleman said. ``There's a lot of guys who are not particularly ashamed of their individual performances. But the 103 losses are behind us and the good performances are behind us.''

Zimmerman thinks it's time for the Nationals to show improvement.

``All Jim needs to do is worry about the game and I think we have the core group together now to where we can take care of our own team and make it our team, which is what good teams are,'' he said. ``If we can do that, it makes it easier on him and he can do his part - the pitching changes, worrying about who's in the lineup, all that.

``We're finally to that point where we have that dynamic in our locker room, and that's fun.''

Notes: LHP Ross Detwiler, who underwent surgery in Vail, Colo., on Monday to repair torn cartilage in his right hip, said Saturday he hopes to pitch within 10 weeks, not the three months first projected. Detwiler, who will be on crutches for three weeks, said the injury dated back to last year and flared up during workouts in Florida in mid-to-late January. Detwiler didn't see a physician or have an MRI until last week, and was immediately sent to Dr. Marc Philippon for a second opinion and surgery.