Nationals hold first full squad workout
The Nationals gathered as a complete team for the first time this morning in their clubhouse, forming a rectangular ring in their lockers around Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo, and Jim Riggleman. Each of those three spoke to the team, in that order. Rizzo had never addressed a team as general manager at the open of spring training before. He spoke the shortest -- "my two-minute rant," he said later -- and delivered the primary imperatives of this season.
"We're putting 2009 behind us," Rizzo said. "Our expectation is to win. The players should be focused to win, prepare to win, and expect to win."
From his time in Viera around the players, Rizzo had developed a sense that the team he assembled already adopted those feelings. "I just wanted to make sure they heard it from me," he said. "With the aura of Pudge [Rodriguez] in camp and the attitude of [Jason] Marquis and [Adam] Kennedy and those veteran guys, there really has been a different attitude. We're all tired of losing. We're all tired of talking about 100-loss seasons and No. 1 picks. You have to believe you can win before you start winning. I think that has taken place."
Riggleman spoke the longest and spoke last, and he added a theme -- "attention to detail," he said. When the Nationals first stood around Riggleman on an infield, Riggleman explained the proper execution of bunt defense. The Nationals made an outrageous 143 errors last season, and Riggleman feels it is his job to prevent a similarly ghastly total this season.
When he spoke to players, Kasten emphasized "the heightened level of excitement" surrounding the club and acknowledged the raised expectations that come with that. It is easy for any team to speak about expecting to win more this time of year, but with the Nationals it feels uniquely true. At this point last season, with the Nationals ready to embark on a 103-loss season, their general manager was under investigation and their pitching staff was comprised almost wholly of question marks.
"Last year was about the worst possible vibe you could have," Kasten said.
"It just feels different because of the personnel around me," reliever Jason Bergmann said. "More than last year, more than the year before that, I believe in this team. Everything seems stable. Every year, there's been an issue. This year it's strictly about baseball."
A couple quick notes: At the workout, all players, aside from new father Josh Willingham, were accounted for. Afterward, the Nationals had another meeting warning about the pitfalls of new social media, which included a video collage of "missteps" athletes have made using Twitter, Facebook, etc.
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