Skipper: 'Not a lot of changes to make'
WASHINGTON -- To hear Jim Riggleman talk, it's a wonder that the Washington Nationals didn't give Manny Acta a contract extension -- instead of firing him.
Riggleman took the reins Wednesday of the worst team in baseball, holding his first team meeting, running his first practice and holding his first news conference. He spent much of his time praising his predecessor and former boss, who was dismissed Monday after 2½ seasons and a 26-61 record in 2009.
"Manny did all the right things," said Riggleman, who joined the Nationals this year as bench coach, "so there's not a lot of changes to make. We've got to get some results. We feel like if we continue with what Manny was trying to do on the field and his strategy, certainly sooner or later this talent that we have is going to surface and produce the results we want to produce. We're not going to reinvent the game."
So while the lineup tinkerings will be minor, if there are any at all, the main difference will be the change in voice from a 40-year-old manager in his first job to a 56-year-old journeyman who managed the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs in the 1990s and last year did the interim thing with the Seattle Mariners.
"Jim's the right man," slugger Adam Dunn said. "He's going to jump-start us. He brings a totally different kind of demeanor, a more serious, tough, demeanor to the team, and I think that's what we need right now."
Riggleman dismissed the notion that he is fiery -- "I feel like I'm a bit of a softy," he said -- but almost anyone the Nationals hired would be more animated than Acta, who was sometimes criticized for a calm, even-keel manner, even as his players' fundamentals suffered during a tough season.
Riggleman said the few times he has been caught on camera in a player's face resulted from lack of effort.
"I've got no problem if you miss a ball," Riggleman said, "but if you don't chase it after you miss it, I've got a problem."
Riggleman said his first message to the team would to get refocused. Not a bad idea for a club that leads the majors in errors and has the highest ERA in the National League.
"There's a lot of season left," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity to make a move in the standings. Let's chase a club, let's get after that club to see if we can close in on them."
Riggleman is a local product. He went to high school in Maryland and used to the root for the Washington Senators. As a manager, he has a 522-652 record over nine seasons, including 36-54 with the Mariners after John McLaren was fired last year. He had hoped Seattle would keep him but realized that wasn't going to happen when the organization started cleaning house.
Now he has a chance to make a case for himself in Washington.
"All managers would like to have your club in spring training," he said, "and get it started and run with it."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press