Riggleman: Personnel changes key to defensive turnaround

The Nationals are tied with the Phillies for fewest errors in the national league with 33 through 68 games (the Phillies have now played 70). That is a significant step forward for the Nationals team defense after leading the majors, alongside the Pirates, last season with 127 miscues.

What might be even more impressive is what the team has done in the first summer month of 2011. The Nationals have the longest current errorless streak in the major leagues at 122 2/3 innings, dating back to June 1. They also enjoyed 87 1/3 innings from May 4 through May 15 where they didn’t commit an error.

Manager Jim Riggleman said the experience of shortstop Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa working together since September last season is starting to pay off.

“I think the number one thing is the growth of Desmond and Espinosa,” Riggleman said. “They played last year and now they are in another year and they are growing as players. The time on the field, experience and settling in (has made all the difference in the defense).”

Riggleman said that isn’t the only change that has made a major difference in the fielding of the club. It has been a point of emphasis since the offseason and general manager Mike Rizzo went out a got proven defensive players to help rectify that glaring weakness.

“There have been personnel changes,” Riggleman said. “(Jayson) Werth and (Rick) Ankiel defensively have been very good, and they weren’t here last year. (Adam) LaRoche played great defense, and he wasn’t here last year.”

“(Michael) Morse didn’t play much at first base last year, he has played very well. There has been an emphasis on it from Mike Rizzo down through the coaching staff. We have to play better defense than (we did) last year. That (was) not acceptable.”

Riggleman even saw the Nationals fall into a hole defensively after a solid beginning this season. He decided he was not going to let that problem fester and worked quickly on correcting the problem.

“I was very disappointed when we had (so many) errors in (so few) games early in the year,” Riggleman said. “We came out and played good baseball for the first week to 10 days. That should not have been the case. We got right back to playing good defense and we have played good ever since.”

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