Friday, November 13, 2009
Blogger Availability With Jim Riggleman
Early this afternoon, Mike Gazda, Director of Baseball Media Relations for Our Washington Nationals conducted a Blogger Availability with Jim Riggleman, the 3rd Full-Time Manager of D.C.'s team since baseball returned to The Nation's Capital in 2005. As it turned out, Sohna and I happened to be at Nationals Park during the conference call. We were using our free Ballpark Tour tickets, a benefit available to Season Ticket Holders. Never had we taken the tour before and that freebie for 2009 Ticket Holders expires this Saturday, November 14th. So as it turns out, we participated in the phone conference call while still on South Capitol Street, in the proximity of Jim Riggleman, but a good distance away.
Funny though, and enjoyable to watch beforehand, a special video presentation on the ballpark's HDTV Scoreboard to commemorate Ryan Zimmerman being awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove and Louisville Silver Slugger Award from earlier this week. All ribbon boards throughout Nationals Park displayed a very cool, almost Zorro like, Flaming "Z". The videos covered both Ryan's exploits in the field and at the plate in 2009. Not sure if the displays and video presentation were put on for those taking the tour (of which only four were on hand), or if this was for the enjoyment of Nationals Employees having lunch at Nationals Park. The displays had been dark for the first 90 minutes of the tour. But when our visit extended a little past 12 noon--the HDTV Scoreboard and Ribbon Boards came to life.
By the way, take a look at this picture of The African Queen and I in the Home Dugout today. It is pouring outside--which helped make the the tour quite interesting, different, and a lot of fun. Nothing like a near private romp around a Major League Ballpark!!
Good Stuff-even while exploring in a driving rainstorm. We will have more on that ballpark tour later.
But nothing like baseball in November!! And that's leads us to the transcript of today's Blogger Availability With Jim Riggleman. Eight different social media folks asked questions during the 20 minutes alloted. There were, at least 11 or so on the call. But there was not a roll call before the event began to know how many for sure.
With that, here with go with today's Blogger Availability With Jim Riggleman--which got off to an inauspicious start when Mr. Riggleman accidentally hung up after being introduced by Mike Gazda:
Jim: Hello guys, sorry for that delay there. John Dever (Sr. Director Media Relations) messed that up. I’ll make sure that won’t happen again!! (Sohna and I were balling over in laughter. We are sure others were as well).
Question: One thing. If you had to make a list of all traits you bring, what is at the top? What stood out as to the reason you got the full-time job?
Jim: The criteria that the job is based on is in somebody else’s hand. I know what I feel my strengths are. I know what I am looking on to improve—that type of stuff. But exactly what they (The Nationals) are looking for—you really never know. The people who are making those decisions on who is going to be the manager, or who is going to be in any position—if they have the power in their hands to make that call—they are the one’s who are going to have that criteria. I am not sure what qualities I have that helped them make this decision, but I am confident I am going to be able to do this job. I have done it before. I look forward to continuing it on and the faith they have shown in me, the confidence they have shown in me, will be rewarded with that continued progress.
Question: Can you tell us Jim what decisions remain for you to make, in regard to your coaching staff? Or, for example—bench coach?
Jim: Yeah. We are in the process of doing that. We don’t have anything to announce right now because whenever you make these types of decisions, there are people who you might want to bring in—but you have got to get permissions from the existing clubs they are with—to talk to them. In most cases, it is just a formality because you are not asking for the person to make a lateral move. So, there will be a couple of changes on the staff. I know we are close to finalizing it. If we were probably doing this call two days from now—we would have a final list for you. But I really can’t disclose those things right now because the permission hasn’t been granted, yet.
Question: I want to follow up on that first question asked. What do you think are your strengths as a full-time manager in the field that is the reason why Mike Rizzo said: ‘you are the guy, no one else?’
Jim: Again, it is a tough question to answer because that would be a question for Mike. I will just say for myself, I feel like I have managed a long time. People look at how long you manage—I managed, whatever, eight seasons in the Major Leagues. But, I managed eight or nine years in the minor leagues. That’s 16 years of managing there. I don’t care what level you are at—when the umpire says play ball—your competitive juices are flowing, game situations come up, so there are 16 years of experience that I am drawing from every time I manage in a ball game. And amazingly it’s strange, that as long as I have been in the game, something will happen most every other day that you haven’t seen before—whatever. So, I think the qualities I bring is just the experience, the dealings with the ups and downs of the game, the understanding how difficult of a game it is to play and not get too down in the dumps if the play isn’t going well. But, then again, not accepting if the effort is not going well. Trying to keep an even keel, I think that has helped me as much as anything. Not getting too excited about wins and not getting too down about losses—being more intoned to the effort we are giving out on the field and are we, or are we not making progress. But I think I have a good handle on that.
Question: If I could follow up on that real quick. With that experience in mind, what do you see with this team right now as it moves forward?
Jim: I think that the way we finished the (2009) season, not just the fact that we won seven ball games. But I think the energy the ball club displayed throughout September—in September we didn’t necessarily win a bunch of games—we won our last seven games of the season—but a lot of those losses we had were in September, but the energy level and the determination by the players is something I really think we can build on. The talent level we saw with some of our young players was very exciting. (Ian) Desmond, (Justin) Maxwell, the way that (Garrett) Mock developed into a guy that could go deep into ball games. John Lannan throwing better in late September, as good or better than in April—which is very encouraging because he is a guy that logged over 200 innings for us. I just think there are a lot of things to build on without even mentioning the two big boys in the middle of our lineup (Ryan Zimmerman/Adam Dunn). Nyjer Morgan and (Sean) Burnett are great additions that Mike (Rizzo) made for us that will be there from day one for us next year. There are a lot of things I feel positive about.
Question: Jim, you talk about the plan to move Cristian Guzman to second base. I have heard a lot from fans, just comments, wondering why not try him out at least for one or two games in September—the end of last season? Just to see him at game speed just to help form the decision of what to do going into the off-season?
Jim: That is what we want to do, but when we came to the decision that we were going to move him over there and we talked to him about it—we then wanted to get him some work at second base, pre-game. So it would be fair to him and fair to the pitcher that was pitching that night. We’d have then worked him out at second; he’s had his pre-game over there. And it was about that time that he really wasn’t able to continue playing at all. His arm was bothering him to the point where we just had to shut him down. No matter what position he played, the arm wasn’t going to allow him to throw. And they (Team Doctors) checked him out and they saw an issue there that needed to be operated on. The operation took place and we heard it was very successful. The damage that was in his shoulder was minimal—to the point of where he is probably going to be throwing fine by January or February. But, yeah you are right, it would have been nice to get him out there in September for a few games, but we just weren’t able to do it.
Question: Talking of injured players, any word on the progress of Scott Olsen after his surgery in July?
Jim: He’s progressed very nicely. He’s pretty much progressed well from the time he got injured. After getting the operation, he has progressed pretty well. Toward the end (of the season) he was playing catch and so forth. Then, whatever the timeframe was, he is actually ahead of schedule. So now it is a matter of making a decision on what to do with him this winter—bringing him back or whatever—because he is a nice young guy—but still he is a veteran that’s got some experience out there. He’s a guy that has put in 200 innings himself a couple of times. We think he will be healthy in the spring.
Question: What is on the top of your wish list for the 25-man roster?
Jim: When you finish the season with as many losses as we did, obviously there is a lot of room for improvement. My wish list is that we just continue the progress that we made and more in the line of defense. Offense in exciting, people want to see the ball go out of the ballpark and all that, but I don’t want to see us add offensive players who can’t play their position—defensively. I think we have to shore up our defense. I think that my wish list is—a little more often we make the plays, we cut down on the errors, when the ball goes in the air, it’s an out. When it is on the ground, it is an out. We have guys with range that can make the necessary plays to help our pitchers.
Question: I had the pleasure of going down to Phoenix to watch some Arizona Fall League last week and the question I had was—with the wisdom of a manager—but put yourself in the position of a young player who is hoping to make the 25-man roster—if you had to churn a course, if you were starting today and wanted to end in April in Washington—what would your course be?
Jim: Well, you saw those guys in Arizona. If you look at the Arizona Fall League a higher percentage of those guys who play in that league end up playing in the Big Leagues probably more than any other league. So, that is a great path to go on. If you are respected enough by your organization that you are invited to that league—that’s a path you should be flattered to be asked. And then to go there and play well, it really does help your progress for making a ball club in April. Many of the guys who will play in the Big Leagues don’t go directly in April, but they will show up there at some point in that season or next. It’s a very good league you got to see down there. You are basically seeing the cream of the crop throughout baseball when you see that league.
Question: On the AFL, if Drew Storen had a great spring, would you consider giving him a spot in the bullpen? And if so, what would that role be—middle relief, set-up?
Jim: Decisions like that are very tough to talk about right now because you get real excited about these guys and you come into spring training and their numbers—themselves—don’t allow something like that to happen. You want to put the best ball club you can out there, but you also want to make sure you take care of the player the right way—get him enough innings throughout the Minor Leagues times that he comes and has got his feet on the ground and kind of understands the workload that he may be asked to carry and—as I said—he gets his feet wet in the Minor Leagues. Now, that being said, Drew signed quickly last year and that is a great thing. He signed quickly. He got a lot of work for us last year. He is in the fall league now. His path to the Big Leagues is definitely sped up. If he were that impressive in the spring and he made it a tough choice for us—then more power to him and it could go his way. The role would probably, as you said, middle—not a long man by any chance—but somewhere toward the middle, sixth to eight inning, more in there.
Question: Going back to the Frank Robinson days, The Nationals have always tended to be toward the bottom of the league in stolen bases success rate. And that remained the case last year. I wonder if, A: that is a priority for you? And as a manager, what is it going to take to get The Nationals up to the point where they are being successful 75% or more on stolen bases?
Jim: A good number is probably 70%. A great number is 80%. And I know we weren’t at that. The stolen base success rate is a product of the personnel on the ball club. I think what happened is that—you know I came up in The Cardinals System. I coached and managed in The Cardinals System with Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, Andy VanSlyke, Tommy Herr—those types of guys. That ball club was actually stealing 300 bases per year. That kind of went away. We hit the Steroids Era. People weren’t willing to make outs on the bases because so many guys were hitting the ball out of the ballparks. Why take a chance unless you were going to be extremely successful running the bases. So, I think you are going to see more and more teams go towards athleticism and speed again as we get away from the steroids times. And when you see that, you are going to see a success rate increase in stolen bases. The bottom line is that you want to score runs. However you create those runs, a stolen base just for the sake of a stolen base doesn’t do you much good if you are not 75% successful. I think you are going to see in the next year or two the game go in that direction and that will be reflected in the players we sign.
Question: If you are comfortable moving Guzman to second base with a spring training behind him, how comfortable are you with investing in Ian Desmond at shortstop and Jesus Flores behind the plate—even though he has been often injured?
Jim: My initial reaction to that would be that I really liked what I saw with Desmond. I would feel comfortable with him at shortstop. I think with any young shortstop you are going to have to live with some errors that maybe you wouldn’t get with a veteran guy. The payback is going to be with the range and the athleticism and sometimes the extraordinary play that a guy like him can make. The short answer is that I would be comfortable with doing that. Behind the plate, Flores has had a couple of operations. We have got to get him back. This is a big part of our lineup that we want to get in there. But we can’t rush him back. He’s had a lot of things going on with his right arm. So we are not anticipating that he will be ready, necessarily, when spring training starts. We may have to bring him along a little slower. Eventually, I would be very comfortable if, and when, we can get him back healthy.
Question: Are you then going to need a starting catcher in the meantime?
Jim: That is something Mike Rizzo is going to explore. Yesterday was a real busy day. Mike and I got a chance to talk a little bit, but this (Flores) is the type of personnel stuff we were not talking about because I did not know whether I had this job (permanently). Now, we are going to get a little aggressive about that and hopefully begin cataloging what our needs are going to be—and catcher may be one of them.
Question: Just wondering how you expect to draw free agents for a team that has lost over 100 games two years in a row? And how are you going to convince players that this is the place to come?
Jim: Surprisingly, ballplayers are looking for opportunity. When you talk about last year, like (Mark) Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia. C.C. Sabathia was going to a top-flight ball club. A club that was ready to win now. Mark Teixeira had limited his places that he was going to go to the east. He was probably going to end up in New York, Baltimore or Washington, Philadelphia-somewhere in the east. Sometimes, it’s not just a matter of where you are in the standings. For some guys it’s where they are going to fit on the ball club? How bad you need that position that they play or pitch. If they are a closer, if they can come in and be The Closer—instead of being a set-up guy. There are different reasons for guys to go places. They may want to be the closer—like I said. They may want to know they are coming in as the regular shortstop. If they can’t get a job as the regular shortstop somewhere else, and you are offering them that; or you are offering them the chance to be our catcher rather than go somewhere else and not be the regular (guy)—they can come here and be the regular (catcher)—that might be a free agent that might want to come to you and feel like he is going to be a part of the solution—instead of being a part of the problem—where the club has lost 100 games.
Question: You mentioned Scott Olsen earlier. How about Jordan Zimmermann? Any word on his progress?
Jim: Jordan is doing great. But there is really no way for speeding that up. You go into that (ligament replacement surgery to his right throwing elbow) with 12 to 18 months of recovery. 12-months would probably be August. Taking a cautious approach, I could actually see where we could not be counting on him in ’09, instead in ’10 because there would just be a small part of the season left (next year). We want to make sure we get him ready for the next season. Stranger things have happened. We heard that when they (the surgeons) went in and worked on him—they felt great about how it went when they finished up that operation. And he is going to be as good as ever. It could be that he could pitch for us in August or September, but the off-season months will also help his recovery, so it might be in ’11.
With that final answer, The Blogger Availability With Jim Riggleman concluded. What was interesting to hear at the very end was Mike Gazda—not only thanking the many bloggers that participated, but also the mainstream media for calling in and listening. Sohna and I got a big kick out of that.
All photos copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved