Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman

SBF: Jim, it's a white out condition. I can't even see the house across the street from us.

Jim Riggleman: That's what everybody's been telling me, doesn't sound like a lot of fun. Of course, it's 55 degrees here (in Florida).

SBF: Thanks for warming our hearts.

Yes, the weather outside was certainly frightful yesterday as blizzard number two of the last week struck the Washington D.C. area. But fortunately, inside our house in Alexandria, Virginia, it's year-round baseball weather. If The African Queen and I can't go outside to somehow enjoy baseball involving Our Washington Nationals, we might as well get someone on the phone to talk about Our Washington Nationals.

Whom better than Our Manager Jim Riggleman?

Just days away from his first spring training as Washington's Skipper, Mr. Riggleman agreed to a phone chat to discuss what he expects to see beginning next week in Viera, Florida. No question, there have been many changes to the front office, the coaching staff and the roster of Our Washington Nationals since the conclusion of the 2009 season. And we wanted to cover them all with Our Manager--and touched on most during the 20-minutes allotted.

With that, here is Nats320's Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman. And it's a two-parter.

Nats320: I want to start with a question about your new coaches. Specifically, in the first full year of any manager’s reign of a team, there is a courtesy to allow that manager to bring in coaches with whom the manager has trust. What does John McLaren bring to the table for Washington as your new bench coach?

“John and I have known each other for quite some time. He's very well rounded in baseball and has a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of the game. He’s managed a lot. He’s coached a lot. He’s done everything from set up spring training, to running minor league teams. He’s managed in the big leagues. He’s coached in the big leagues. So he is just a good baseball mind that will be sitting next to me on the bench. Someone with whom I can talk baseball with before and after the games. I can run things by him during the games. And really, just another good set of eyes and ears needed.”

Nats320: After being in control of this team at the end of 2009, you probably had a ‘want list’ of personnel types you felt were needed to fill certain roles and help this team move forward in 2010. How far has Mike Rizzo gone in fulfilling those needs for you?

“I feel Mike has gone over and above anything we could have expected. To add the people he has added is just tremendous. He’s addressed every issue we talked about when last season was winding down. Everything from catching, to infield defense, pitching--starting pitching and bullpen. He’s been very aggressive and he identified our needs. And I am sure he will continue to improve the club as we wind down the off-season. You know as well as I, the off-season goes right up to Opening Day. I am sure Mike will keep on pushing.”

Nats320: Taking into consideration the personnel available to you with the beginning of Spring Training next week, what are your strengths right now? And what are your weaknesses?

“I’m more comfortable talking about our strengths. I think we have a lot of good professional baseball players on our club right now. A lot of guys now have another year of experience under their belts. Guys like Ryan Zimmerman and Nyjer Morgan have grown. Sure, Nyjer might be 29 years old but at the major league level he was fairly inexperienced. He understands the game better now. Zimmerman as well. They are becoming more complete players. Then when you add some big veteran presence on the club in Adam Dunn, Pudge Rodriguez, Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman--there is just a lot of real pros on the team. Guys who offensively understand the strike zone. They know balls and strikes. They will give you a good quality at-bat. So from an offensive standpoint, I think that is a real strength.”

“Pitching-wise, our strength is a lot of quality arms. We’ve got some guys on the staff that can get hitters to slap ground balls. And I believe with Kennedy, Guzman and Zimmerman, we’ve got some sure handed infielders who can handle those ground balls. So, I think that’s a good match. And I think those pitchers, including those just joining us, but even those like John Lannan, Craig Stammen and Garrett Mock are going to feel really good looking in from the mound and seeing Pudge in there on a lot game days.”

Nats320: Speaking of Mock, during the Hot Stove Luncheon a few friday’s back--you praised Garrett as a potential starting rotation guy. He’s not been a player others have publicly talked about this off-season, but you like him. What do you particularly like about Garrett Mock?

“With my own eyes, I was seeing things I really liked last year, especially after he was recalled that final time. And the comments I was receiving from other coaches and managers from other clubs the next day after Garrett had pitched in some games were positive. They were telling me the opposing hitter said: ‘this guy is tough and he was pounding the strike zone pretty good’. They were impressed with his velocity and it was not an easy task hitting against him. I really liked hearing that about him from the opposition.”

“From our standpoint, watching him be able to handle starting pitching--after being a reliever for us after being sent to the minor leagues--and not going back to being a starter. And then to see him go deep into ball games, throw a lot of pitches, maintain his strength and durability--that was really encouraging. Look, a lot of guys don’t go deep into ball games these days--not close to seven innings. He was able to get to the sixth and seventh innings and one time--I think--got to 120 pitches, which was a big stepping stone for him.”

Nats320: I want to go back to infield defense as you mentioned earlier. I know you like Guzman and the addition of Adam Kennedy now. Where does Ian Desmond now fit into this equation? Does he get a serious shot at shortstop or an infield starting position?

“With the addition of Kennedy, I think the first thing we will do in Spring Training is get a quick read on Cristian Guzman as to how he is feeling physically. If Cristian is up to the task at shortstop, then he will be the shortstop. If he is having some physical limitations, then we would back him off and Ian would slide in there. But that’s not saying Ian will not be on the ball club. He’s very versatile, so there are other ways for Ian to be on the ball club--without being our every day shortstop.”

Nats320: You are managing a National League Club, which needs a lot of versatility off its bench. What is a perfect bench for you as manager? And how close are to having those complimentary parts for 2010?

“Very important topic. We have some nice options. We’ve got some guys with some power like Chris Duncan--who is going to try to make the club. We have Mike Morse from the right side, Duncan from the left side for power. Both of which would be nice elements to bring off the bench. We’ve got a sure handed guy who can play shortstop every single day, if needed, in Alberto Gonzalez. We have Ian--the type of guy who can add infield depth, be able to pinch run and maybe start a little bit in the outfield. Willie Harris is a very good bench player for us in so many roles. He’s valuable because he can do so many things for us. Ideally, in a perfect world and not many teams have this--the luxury of having a switch hitter--who is also versatile enough to play in the field in more than just one spot is big. But, I don’t know many of those guys. What that allows you to do is carry one less position player and carry an extra pitcher. The perfect scenario would be to have a couple of versatile guys like that--who happen to be switch hitters.”

With that answer, Part One of Nats320's Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman concludes. Tomorrow in the finale, we pick up the conversation talking about depth--always needed to compliment any ball club. Then we touch on what Jim expects to see from his players, not just during spring training, but throughout the year. Also, we chat about bunting; what he will say to his team come the first day of Full-Squad Spring Training; and what Washington's Fans should expect and be hopeful about in 2010.

That's all coming tomorrow in Nats320's Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman (Part Two).


Positively Half St. said...

SBF- I am feeling more and more that either Alberto Gonzalez or Mike Morse is going to take a trip off the roster when Adam Kennedy is added tomorrow. I wonder who hits the waiver wire when we (hopefully) sign Chien-Ming Wang. It makes me wonder if perhaps there really has been an agreement as the China Times indicated, but that Rizzo is buying time to pull off a roster-clearing trade.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Positively Half St.--Having no idea what Rizzo will do next, it's very interesting that so many different media sources and even Riggleman stated in our interview that the off-season doesn't end until Opening Day and Mike Rizzo is still considering all options. Somethings bound to happen. And if it does, watch it be something totally unexpected.

As for Morse, I think The Nationals really like him. He just doesn't have a position in the field. Gonzalez, not sure if he even has a role for 2010 on the Major League Roster. Thanks.