Friday, February 12, 2010
Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman (Part Two)
To refresh, Jim Riggleman is talking with Nats320 on the phone from Florida--less than one week before the start of Spring Training for Our Washington Nationals. Part one concluded with Jim pondering his ideal bench. Today, we begin with the importance of having depth in your system.
Here we go with the conclusion of Nats320's Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman (Part Two).
Nats320: As a manager, is it comforting to know in 2010 you have other major league veterans like Eric Bruntlett, Kevin Mench, maybe even Chris Duncan sitting at Triple A ready to be recalled if someone goes down on the Major League Roster? Depth, which this organization has not really had since coming to Washington.
“It’s a nice luxury. The depth in this organization has improved greatly. That also comes with the addition of the front liners like Pudge (Rodriguez) and Adam Kennedy. The addition of those two guys to the ball club move back a couple of others--but it adds to the depth in the organization. That is very important. Look, (Chris) Duncan is going to be an interesting guy to watch. Chris has had some physical ailments. If he is past those ailments, if he’s back to the level of play he was at a couple of years ago when he hit 20 homers for The Cardinals--that’s worth looking at. Mench is also a guy who has hit home runs in the big leagues. As you said, there are some interesting guys there and unfortunately you only have 25 slots. We can’t make a spot for all of them (on the Opening Day Roster). But whomever doesn’t make the club immediately, I think we will be watching closely to see if there is some point down the line where they can help us.”
Nats320: Of all the guys signed to minor league deals by Mike Rizzo, Chris Duncan really interests me. You don’t know if he’s recovered and can reclaim his rising stardom of a few years back--but there is potential.
“Yes, he’s got a chance. He fits in with the mentality of our ball club. He’s kind of an old school hard-nosed gamer.”
Nats320: You like that aspect don’t you? The guys that get dirty and lay it out on the line every single day?
“When you look up at the end of the year and you see guys who have been there for you, haven’t given up despite the record, grind it out through the whole season--they played hard--went first to third (on the bases); they slid hard; they broke up double plays; some things that don’t get noticed in the stat sheet--but as a manager--get noticed by me. You really appreciate those guys and the other players on the team appreciate them. And sometimes it rubs off on some of the other players.”
Nats320: Speaking of the little things, bunting has never been a great trademark of The Nationals these past five seasons. Is this something you and your coaches can improve on in 2010--especially when it comes to veteran players?
“We certainly will work on it a lot. I thought our pitchers actually did a good job last year in most bunt situations. They were pretty successful getting the bunt down. My recollection is we got the ball down pretty well with pitchers bunting--pretty much at the league average. Bunting is not easy. When you are bunting, quite often, the opposition knows you are bunting--so they are charging infielders. The pitcher is trying to throw you something that’s up in the strike zone--to get you to chase and foul off. It’s not as easy as just putting the ball down. It is something that takes a lot of work and we will put a lot of work into it this spring.”
“I just don’t know if we will be changing veteran players to help make veteran players better bunters. I think our emphasis will be on pitchers and our guys who we foresee having to do more situational and ‘for a base hit’ bunting. A guy like Alberto Gonzalez, that’s got to be a part of his game. Cristian Guzman, now and then, that has got to be a part of his game. It is already a part of Nyjer’s game. But for the Zimmerman’s & Dunn’s of the world--it’s not going to be a major factor in their game. We are going to work at it a lot. But it’s going to be specifically oriented to certain guys.”
Nats320: When you get the entire squad together for that first full workout on February 26th--what are you going to say to them in that first team meeting? Do you encourage? Cajole? Push?
“Throughout the last couple of months, I’ve made some notes about some messages I want to get to the ball club. I’ve looked at a little bit of tape (video) over a few concerns. I’ve watch MLB Network and I’ve seen some game situations arise which make me think of something that happened last year to us--and that gets me thinking about a subject. But you make those notes, you have a plan, and then you get in there and you just sort of talk. I don’t want to say rambling, or off the cuff. There will be time to discuss the specific points throughout spring training. But I want to emphasize to them that we are a talented group. We want to turn this group into a team. We start this first day as a group--a bunch of individuals put together. We are going to leave here as a team and that is process. That is a six-week process in spring training. We will need to take advantage of that every day there. We have got to make some progress every day and carry that attitude into the season--basically. We will need to culminate our work throughout the spring training to where we are sharp in playing the early part of the season. We need to start strong and ready to compete.”
Nats320: You've been in the game a long time. You have a lot of experience in the game. You’ve managed both winning clubs and losing clubs. What’s your gut feeling about the 2010 Washington Nationals?
“I really don’t allow myself to do that or speak on it. As I have said in the past, at this point--it’s all just talk. Whatever our club is, it’s only on paper. Whatever we say, it’s just talk. No matter what I think, or what my gut feeling is--we’ve got to get after it from day one. But my gut feeling is that we have got to maximize everything we can out of our ball club. That’s my job and the coaching staff’s job to start from ground zero and really teach, instruct, push and really motivate the players. We need to create an atmosphere where we’ve got to outwork everybody else. If we outwork everybody else and then are good enough--then certainly our talent is going to rise more so than the other clubs. That will also mean--we’ve worked harder.”
Nats320: OK, final question--similar in topic, but more from a fan’s perspective. Here is a team coming off two-straight 100-loss seasons. What fresh hopes should fans have for 2010 that differs from the experiences of the past two seasons?
“The fans should feel that Mike Rizzo really made a lot of progress with this ball club with our roster. He has almost kept everyone from last year that we felt we had to keep. And he’s added a whole lot of people we really wanted to add. We don’t feel like we’ve lost any important impact player, only gained. The Yankees lost Johnny Damon. We should be encouraged that we’ve identified some keepers, made sure we still got them, fulfilled identified needs and didn't lose any key players. The Pudge, Kennedy, Jason Marquis, Matt Capps, Tyler Walker, Brian Bruney and Chris Duncan additions should make all of us very encouraged.”
“That being said, I feel we had some guys that won’t be with us that made nice contributions last year. Guys such as Ronnie Belliard, Mike MacDougal and Josh Bard. Those guys gave everything they had for us and I appreciated their efforts. But for whatever reasons--contract negotiations, we signed someone else--they are not coming back. But we’ve kept a nice crop of core players in guys like Dunn, Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, Morgan, Guzman and added, like I said with guys like Pudge, Kennedy and a few others.”
“We are moving in the right direction.”
With that final answer, Nats320's Pre-Spring Training Chat With Jim Riggleman concluded. Our Manager is interesting to talk baseball with because he's not the demonstrative type--publicly. He's not one to boast or proclaim outlandish possibilities. But Riggleman does have that quiet confidence. The man that wears Number 5 on his uniform back for Our Washington Nationals believes in his ability to lead and beginning next week in Viera, Florida--our players will find out whether they will trust his leadership as well--over a full season. Adding new players to any roster is one thing, how Jim Riggleman develops the roster currently given him by Our General Manager Mike Rizzo--a whole different matter.