Monday, May 24, 2010
Inside Pitch Live With Jim Riggleman
This past Saturday, May 22nd, the third installment of Inside Pitch Live at The PNC Diamond Club took place before Our Washington Nationals played The Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park in Inter-League play. Our Manager Jim Riggleman was the guest of honor. Throughout the 2010 season, each Saturday home game will feature a Nationals player or official holding a Q & A Session in The PNC Diamond Club held approximately one hour before game time and lasting 20 to 25 minutes. MASN's Rob Dibble hosted this installment and here is the complete transcript.
Rob Dibble: Welcome to the question and answer session here at The Diamond Club with Manager Jim Riggleman of the 2010 Nationals.
Dibble: And when I get through with some of the questions I am going to ask, we are going to pass around the microphone so you guys can get in some quick questions before we are done. Don’t be shy, this is all about you. That’s why we are here, to help you guys out--hopefully enlighten you.
Dibble: Skip, what has been the biggest surprise for with this team this year?
Jim Riggleman: Two things. And I can’t say I am totally surprised. I guess I am pleased with the play of our middle infielders--Guzman, Kennedy & Desmond. Those three guys, the unselfishness of Kennedy and Guzman to accept their roles on the ball club. They are playing a lot but they are not playing every day because Desi is at shortstop. Their attitude has been key for our ball club. The other thing is that, and I kind of knock on wood as I say it--our pitching coming out of spring training I was very concerned. With Olsen (coming back from surgery), we signed Livan Hernandez very late in the spring, had a couple of young starters that we we not sure about--but we’ve pitched pretty good. We’ve pitched good enough to win more ball games than we’ve won. So that is something I have been very happy about. And we hope it will continue, and we know that it can. But it was a little bit of a concern coming out of spring training.
Dibble: You talked about the pitching--are you surprised to see Matt Capps 15 for 15 (as of Saturday, May 22nd) in saves--solidifying the end of the ball game?
Riggleman: Yes, Matt in spring training--you were there. He was really throwing OK. He was just OK. He threw the ball 90 MPH. He threw strikes. He got hit around a little bit. But it’s not that often you see a guy really turn it on when the lights come on. I know yourself and Randy Myers (when with The Reds), were much better pitchers once the bell rang. But I didn’t have any history with Matt Capps, so I didn’t know. So when the bell rang he turned it up a few miles per hour, throwing strikes, great presence. And 15 for 15, that’s doesn’t happen too often.
Dibble: You grew up around here, did your minor league, went full circle, managed a few other ball clubs. Now you are here and managing the hometown team. Is that pretty much full circle for you?
Riggleman: Yeah, it is. I grew up here watching Frank Howard and Frank Robinson. I went away to play ball for years and was disappointed baseball had got away from Washington. And when it came back, by then I had been pretty deep into the ball game in several different locations and thought in the back of my mind that would be a nice place to work. And hopefully my last job in baseball.
Dibble: You were drafted by The Dodgers in the 70’s. How did you make the decision to transition from a player having aspirations of being a major leaguer for 10 or 20 years, then going into coaching?
Riggleman: When you play in the minor leagues a long time you get to the point where they make a decision for you. They say: look, you want to keep playing, keep playing, but we don’t see a future for you in the big leagues as a player. Would you like to stay in the organization as a coach--potential manager in the minor leagues? So for me it was just the opportunity to have a career in baseball rather than getting a job doing something else. I love the game. I thought I could continue playing but I had played seven years and it got a little stagnant. It didn’t look like I was going to move up any higher--so I took the opportunity to stay within the organization. I had no aspirations at that point to manage. I just wanted a career in the game. And once you get in it, you don’t put limitations on yourself. And as you said, I ended up coming full circle.
Dibble: As far as mentors, I know you worked for Tony LaRussa--you were a coach with him. Besides Tony LaRussa, any other mentors in the game?
Riggleman: Two guys. The late George Kissell. I always speak about George. Most people are probably not familiar with who he is. But in a nutshell, I would say he’s a man that never played in the big leagues, but out of Tony LaRussa’s mouth, Tony said he the greatest Cardinal ever--which can kind of go in one ear and out the other. But when you figure there has been Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and all those guys--George Kissell had an impact on every guy that came through there. He taught everybody. He taught players. He taught coaches and managers. He taught you how to manage players. He was just a tremendous influence over there.
The other person is Whitey Herzog. Whitey was managing The Cardinals when you were with The Reds. Whitey probably the best pure baseball man I have ever been around. To just sit around and watch him work was a great treat for me.
Dibble: Whitey Herzog, by the way, going to the Hall Of Fame this summer. How has the running game helped The Nationals this year?
Riggleman: The running game has really slowed down lately. But early in the year as we went around the league, around our division the first time--I think we created some opportunities for ourselves with Kennedy and Willingham and a couple of others guys who the other clubs maybe were not in tune to them running as much. So we created some action that way. But with scouting now, everybody knows what you are going to do. Willingham and Kennedy, Desmond--people who had no history of running--that’s now gone. Everybody has that information now to stop you from running. Nyjer (Morgan) is a guy that is trying to run all the time, but the other clubs are so in tuned to him their pitchers are just not letting him go anywhere.
But the running game helped us early and we’ve got to get back to that. We may have run into some outs when we do it, but we have to keep pushing out to get that going again.
Dibble: Scott Olsen, before last night (May 21st), five great starts. Then he comes up with a sore shoulder. What’s his status?
Riggleman: He’s really tender right now. This has actually been going on for about three starts. Steve McCatty (Pitching Coach) came into the dugout after he threw his warmups to start the game a few starts ago and said we've got to watch him. He just didn’t look real strong in the bullpen. So every inning you check on him and he says he’s fine. ‘I don’t feel any different than I have felt.’ But after the starts over, the next day, he’s very tender. But when it’s his next time to start, he says he’s fine. He kept doing that. Yesterday, before the game, Steve was even more concerned. So after the 3rd inning, we just said that was it. That was enough. The velocity wasn’t down that much, but the location wasn’t there. So I think that was an indication he was struggling.
The other times when we have given him the opportunity to come out of games, he really fought us on it. This time, he was kind of like, yeah, I should come out. We are just going to monitor it. If he has to miss a start or two--we will do that. (Scott Olsen was placed on the 15-day disabled list later Saturday afternoon)
Dibble: Pudge Rodriguez, maybe the best off-season signing of The Nationals in the past few years. How has he helped this ball club?
Riggleman: He’s just such a good player. When the pitchers are throwing to catchers. They catch it and throw it back. You just take that for granted. But last year, due to injuries to our catchers, we were chasing that ball back to the screen a lot. A lot of balls were getting by. That just hasn’t happened this year. If a guy goes to second on Pudge it’s because he earned it. He stole the base, or whatever. Last year, our pitchers were too concerned about pitches they could throw because they might get by the catcher. I think last year, Josh Bard gave us everything he has, but he played hurt for us. Nieves’ leg was hurt. So just having a healthy Pudge back there blocking the ball the way he has, has been huge. He’s worked great with our pitching staff. And he’s a good hitter.
(Later that afternoon, Pudge Rodriguez would strain his lower back and today was placed on the 15-Day Disabled List).
Dibble: Last night you used Livan Hernandez early in the ball game as a pinch hitter. Normally, you don’t use pitchers like that. How do you come to decisions like that in a course of a game? Who to use and when to use in pinch hitting?
Riggleman: In today’s world we carry so many pitchers. We carry 12 pitchers--that’s a lot. It used to be 10. It went to 11 and now it’s up to 12. So you have less bench players. So early in the game, unless you have men on base--you hate to waste one of your pinch hitters in a situation with a couple out--with basically nobody on base--period. You hate to use a guy and not have him available late. So it was very early in the game when I decided to do that. Actually, we did it later with Miguel Batista. We let him hit for himself and continue pitching--with no intention he would get a hit. He was hitting for himself so he could continue pitching.
Dibble: As far as inter-league play, are you a big fan of it? Does it disrupt the flow of the season when you are trying to catch The Phillies, The Marlins and move up in the National League East?
Riggleman: I am not a real big fan of it. I am OK with it. I like the Baltimore series (with Washington). I like if you are The Mets, The Yankees come in. The White Sox play The Cubs. I think those are important. I am not crazy about Oakland playing Washington. Or Oakland playing The Mets. If it draws interest and fans want to see it, great. If there are indications, and I think there are, that fans want to see those others players--so be it. That’s always good for the fans.
Dibble: Picking your lineup every day, what goes into that process?
Riggleman: A lot goes into it. There are a lot of times when you are thinking two to three days ahead of time as to who you are to be facing--which pitchers you are going to be facing. Maybe, some guys have a history with this particular pitcher. Maybe your pitcher that day is a ground ball pitcher--so you want to make sure you’ve got a particular infielder in the game to cover ground for you because you think he is going to get a lot of action. I knew that I was going to give Desmond a day off in the next day or two. But with Scott Olsen pitching yesterday, I wanted Desmond at short. Right handed hitters would be hitting ground balls. And as it turned out he was tender (Olsen), the ball was up and it was a no factor. But those things go into it. You want to play guys while they are hot. With a day game after a night game, that comes into it; left-handed, right-handed pitcher. We are like everybody else. You want to get to the point where you are The Phillies. You just play them all every day. You play Utley every day. You play Ibanez every day. You play Howard every day. It doesn’t matter who the other pitcher is. You just play them all every day (a set lineup). Those players have earned that. Those players are in there every day because they hit everybody. That’s where we want to get too. But we are not quite there yet.
Dibble: We are pressed for time and you have to go manage a game. Let’s open it up to questions.
Question: Hi Jim. I wonder if you could address Adam Dunn’s importance to the lineup? I fell like the days he was sick, we really had a hole there.
Riggleman: Adam’s contributions are not just what he does but he’s hitting behind Ryan Zimmerman. That’s always a plus for Ryan. He’s just in and of himself. If you are the other manager, whether Adam is hot or cold--you hold your breath a little when he comes to the plate. He can ruin your day by hitting one out at any moment. There is a presence there. It gives your lineup presence. As you are putting it together in the off-season, working in spring training, you just know this guy is going to be a problem for the other clubs.
Question: There is this guy up in Syracuse that, I guess, is throwing the ball real well. But with the team doing so well, at one point three games above .500--in second place in the NL East. Do you think it gets a little bit to the guys here in the clubhouse that you go to ESPN.com and it’s talking about the guy in Syracuse (Stephen Strasburg) and not about the ball club in Washington? Do you think that gets to them at this point at all?
Riggleman: I think that is an interesting point. That’s today’s world. It’s too bad it’s like that. Stephen, I am sure, is going to be a great pitcher here. And we can’t wait for him to get here and all that. But he hasn’t thrown a pitch here yet. We got guys out here really working hard to help us make progress. And with that being the case, that’s where the attention should be. But ESPN and a lot of the other networks are putting a lot of him. He’s handled it great, very humble young man, and he’s been outstanding. The attention on him is really out of whack. But in this world today, I don’t know if there is any solution to that.
Dibble: Let me ask you this from a former player’s standpoint. When I was playing, there was always somebody behind you. You can’t worry about that. You can only worry about taking control of what you are doing. For the other four guys that will still be in the rotation, or the bullpen, or the rest of the team--he’s only going to help this team win every fifth day. He can’t pitch every day. He can’t play every day. The rest of the team has got to pull their own weight. They shouldn’t worry about Strasburg. They should probably worry about their own jobs.
Question: You’ve got another good rookie pitcher in Drew Storen. I think he’s solidified the back end of your bullpen. Maybe help to take a little stress off Tyler Clippard. Can you talk about the back end of your bullpen? And Storen’s effect on that?
Riggleman: You’ve pretty much answered the question. Tyler is doing a great job and still is doing a great job. He was really throwing a lot. There were several games there where I was trying to get someone else to take on the load a little bit--but it wasn’t working. We still had a chance to win the game so you go to Tyler. And we just needed someone else that we could go to that could pitch with the lead late in the game. And not have it always be Tyler. Today is a day where we have both of them available. If I use both of them today, I probably wouldn’t use Storen tomorrow. Eventually, we will get to the point where Storen can throw as often as Tyler. But right now, we are holding back a little bit. He can though, as you said, soften the load a little bit.
Question: Last year, when Nyjer Morgan came over from Pittsburgh, he was a huge catalyst at the top of the lineup. Nyjer Morgan has been off to a very slow start. Is he trying to do too much?
Riggleman: I am not sure what his struggle are and why? But I will say that in his running game, the pitchers have really stifled him. They’ve really made it impossible (for him to run). You would think the luck of the draw would mean the catcher would not make a perfect throw, But (Yadier) Molina (St.Louis) and (Miguel) Olivo (Colorado) have been right on the base when he is running. The hitting part, he’s particularly had trouble with some left-handed pitching. But a little bit like Ryan Zimmerman, they are hitting a lot of balls at people that they are making plays on. I know of three plays, that were not only made, but were at crucial times. We had men on base and Nyjer hit a ball into left center twice that (Carlos) Gonzalez caught (Rockies). Once, the centerfielder in Florida caught. It went a long way to left center, great at-bats, that would have produced runs--would look good for Nyjer’s batting average. Three or four plays like that can really change your batting average at this point in the year. And the 3rd Basemen are making good plays on his bunts. Again, you would hope every now and then, that a guy would bobble one in his hand a little, or throw it a little off line to 1st base. It’s just kind of the way it’s been going for Nyjer. Everybody is making plays on him.
Dibble: You touched on this about Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman has been on fire. Now he’s starting to hit from the left side of the plate. Some may not know, but most switch hitters start out as natural right handed hitters. Why were you so patient with him hitting from the left side. You kept putting him out there and now he is on fire.
Riggleman: Part of it is just the character of these individuals. We are all human beings. You have a little soft spot in your heart for these guys how they handle situations correctly. When we went to Cristian Guzman and I called Adam Kennedy in to tell him every now and then he was going to lose some at-bats to Cristian. They were like, hey--whatever you need to do. Well, that’s easy to say that to my face. But how they act out there is the telling measure. And they have been just outstanding. It was not just a matter of me being patient with Cristian. It was a matter of me repaying him for his work and patience. So when he’s been out there, he has been better than ever. And he’s been just outstanding from the right side. One of the top hitters in the league from the right side. But left-handed--as you said--he’s taking it to the next level also.
Question from a child: Is Stephen Strasburg going to be a starting pitcher or a reliever like Drew Storen?
Riggleman: What do you want him to do? What do you think?
Child: I think he should start.
Riggleman: I was going to relieve him, but we are going to start him now. (laugher) That helps. We’ll start him.
Final Question: Jim, the other day Ian Desmond was at the ESPN Zone, he complimented you greatly by saying you are the most steadying force on the team in the clubhouse because you never get too high and you never get too low. I am curious to know where you get that patience with the team struggling right now.
Dibble: Good question.
Riggleman: Well, I appreciate that--if that is the case. It comes from a lot of failure on my own part. I played a long time. I played eight years in the minor leagues and I struggled. I had good enough times that they kept bringing me back. But not good enough times to really take off. And when you struggle that much, once you are the manager, you see other people struggle and you know what is going on in their head. And you know the doubts that get in their head. So you try not to show too much negative emotion--throwing your arms up when plays aren’t made--because I know if I didn’t make a play, I wouldn’t want my manager showing me up and throwing his hands up. Now, in the privacy of my office, I can say what are you doing? But I think it just comes from the game being very tough to play. It really is. Baseball is a tough game to play and be successful at. I have a lot of patience for the results of it. I don’t have a lot of patience for the lack of attention to detail and effort. So as long as they give me that, I never have a problem.
With that final answer Inside Pitch Live at The PNC Diamond Club with Jim Riggleman concluded. On June 5th, when The Cincinnati Reds visit Nationals Park, the next Inside Pitch Live will take place at approximately 6PM in The PNC Diamond Club. Team President Stan Kasten is the scheduled guest that evening.
PS--With a limited amount of time during these events, it would nice to see more questions taken from fans than asked by the moderators. The moderators in these Inside Pitch Live get togethers have the daily opportunity to talk with each quest. The fans do not. Give the fans more of a chance to ponder their thoughts and if a lull comes--the moderator can keeps things going by asking something of his own. The Q & A was good, but fans mentioned after the conclusion they needed more time to ask their own questions.
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