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Posted at 01:20 PM ET, 06/01/2011

Mike Rizzo wanted to be ‘in the trenches’


General Manager Mike Rizzo made his first appearance around the Nationals in about two weeks, having spent the second of May on the road scouting top amateur players in preparation for the June 6 draft. It’s a big year for the Nationals even though they don’t have the first pick – they will choose sixth, 23rd and 34th.

But with Rizzo devoting attention to the draft, he was not with the Nationals as they descended in the standings, losing seven of eight games on their recent road trip and 10 of 12 overall before winning yesterday. Rizzo regretted not being around the clubhouse to offer his support.

“It was a tough time,” Rizzo said. “You could be in contact with your staff via phone as much as you want. But you’re not there. You’re not in the trenches with the guys, especially when they need you. They need me there moreso when they’re struggling than when they’re doing well. It was difficult.

“When things are going well, it’s easy for me not to be around. When they’re struggling, when they’re frustrated and that type of thing, that’s when they need the leadership. It was frustrating for me not to be there to be hands-on.”

Before yesterday’s win, with the Nationals having lost 10 of 12 games, Manager Jim Riggleman called a team meeting. He said he always meets with the team at the one-third mark, which yesterday’s game was. But he also felt creeping frustration and tension, and he wanted to express the need to relax and keep playing hard.

“I just wanted to reinforce to the guys that, look, we’ve played one-third of the season,” Riggleman said. “That’s a lot of baseball, but there’s way more left. Let’s put that behind us, what’s happened so far. Any negativity, any feeling about our ball club that we’re not hitting or whatever, let’s do what we do on that field, because we play hard. Let’s bring that into the clubhouse, too. Let’s really be united in the clubhouse. Let’s keep getting after it, and don’t let a few losses take us down and get us into a rut that we’ve fallen into in the last few years. Just a reminder that we’ve got a lot of talent in here, and it’s starting to surface. Let’s go have some fun and play baseball.”

Riggleman allowed that could sense the Nationals being affected by their slump.

“You can’t really put your finger on it,” he said. “Guys are getting frustrated. Their numbers on there. We’re finding ways to lose games. You know, heck with all that. It’s baseball. This is not the cure for cancer. Let’s get out there and play baseball.”

A couple other notes from Rizzo:

>>> Rizzo said he feels like the Nationals have improved in the ways he wanted them to this offseason, but expressed frustration at how that hasn’t translated to victories.

“I like the way we’re playing,” Rizzo said. “I don’t like the fact that we’re not winning as many games as we should. We’re playing clean defense. We’re running the bases well. We’re doing some of the little things that we haven’t done in the past. Going into this winter, we made a conscious effort to improve our athleticism, to improve our defense, to be able to go first to third, second to home on base hits, to be more fundamentally sound, to improve our bullpen. I think we hit on a lot of the goals we tried to do in the offseason. The last couple days, we started swinging the bats a little better. I think guys are going to reach their career norms. That’s always a big statement that I always make. When we get Ryan [Zimmerman] and hopefully [Adam] LaRoche back in the future, I think that’s only going to improve us. We hit on a lot of goals. I just don’t like a lot of the outcomes. I think that’s frustrating to the teams.”

>>> Rizzo has not spoken to Jayson Werth about the comments he made at the end of the road trip in Milwaukee, and therefore he did not want to comment on them when asked for his take.

By  |  01:20 PM ET, 06/01/2011

 
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