Monday, August 24, 2009

Jim Riggleman Blogger Day Availability

Thoughtful, willing to expand on any question asked. Those were the first impressions The African Queen and I got from watching Interim Manager Jim Riggleman late yesterday morning. Sitting in front of about a dozen or so bloggers in the media interview room at Nationals Park, Mr. Riggleman pondered and fully explained anything asked of him. So much so, that the 17 minute session only resulted in seven questions asked.

Since taking over for Our Former Manager Manny Acta--Jim Riggleman has led Our Washington Nationals to an 18-19 Record in the 37 games he has managed.

Here is the complete transcript from yesterday's media availability with Jim Riggleman. He gave no introductory speech. We went right into the Q & A. He wanted to stay longer, but time and tight scheduling would not allow.

With that, here we go:

Question: The record is sort of what it is this year. I am curious, from your perspective, what do you think this team has accomplished so far. What is it that you want to focus on as the season winds down?

Jim: “I think what has been accomplished is that we have established that we have a good offensive ball club. We’ve been as high as second in the league and probably as low as 6th of 7th in the league in hitting which, if anyone just looks at that, will probably think we are having a pretty good year. So, I think there is a lot of build on there offensively.”

“And to the second part of the question, what do we want to accomplish? We just want to establish a more consistent pitching aspect of the ball club. We are last place in the league in pitching. And it’s amazing; you can probably go back to Abner Doubleday (the beginnings of baseball) and whoever pitched the best—won. It’s exciting to put teams together when you have a bunch of guys who can hit and score runs and hit home runs. As recently as last year, The Texas Rangers, I was in The American League and it was very hard to manage against them because they just hit, hit and hit. But, they didn’t even sniff the playoffs because they were almost last in pitching. And this year they have reversed that. They are pitching very well. They have dropped way down, offensively, but they have a good chance of getting into the playoffs.”

“So, we have got to establish, as Stan Kasten made very clear, it’s pitching, pitching, pitching. We have got to accumulate and develop a lot of pitching. And with the recent signings of our Number 1 and Number 2 draft picks that’s a great start to that. But what we have here already will be parts of our future—as well as—some of the guys that are in AA & AAA now. There are some pretty good pitchers there. That has to be cultivated, developed and hopefully not take a step backwards offensively. If we had this offense here that we have with a pitching staff that is in the middle of the pack, we would be playing some very interesting games in September.”

Question: Following up on the young pitching. How do you balance controlling the innings requirements and pitch counts on your younger arms with still managing to win games at The Major League Level?

Jim: “Well, that is a big concern because it is looked at very closely in today’s world. If somebody gets hurt, it seems to be—well, was he pitched too much? And—who pitched him too much? And—why didn’t they take him out of those games? You are in last place anyway? So, using Jordan Zimmermann as an example. Jordan was monitored very closely, very rarely got into the 100-pitch count range. Never pitching on less than four days rest. He sometimes had five days rest but his arm still had the injury. So we just have to, in good conscience, just try to take care of those starters first and manage the game around that a little bit. Sometimes, take him out a little earlier than you might like, but if your bullpen has got some veterans down there—like we had Joe Beimel. We have (Ron) Villone & (Jorge) Sosa, (Saul) Rivera. Some of these guys who are eating up some of those innings for us. We have to utilize what those guys can do for us down there to protect the young starters.”

Question: When you first took over for Manny Acta, you praised how he was always doing the right things and things were moving in the right direction. Yet, you have had significantly more success than he did with basically the same group of players. What is the difference?

Jim: “When I first started we lost five in a row. And now we have lost five in a row. Success is a very tentative line. It is very fragile. But I was there every day in Spring Training with Manny and I just appreciated his work, the things that came out of his mouth. I felt I was really glad to hear this (from him) because I am 56 years old and Manny is 39 or 40 Years old. I didn’t want to feel like I was not in touch with what needs to be done and said as a current manager because I know how the Leyland’s, LaRussa’s and everybody thinks. But, you have got to evolve. And to hear Manny say the things that he was saying and teaching. I thought, yeah, you know, I am right in tune with what needs to be done out there. And I personally agreed with what he was doing.”

“To answer your question, I don’t know. I don’t know why our players were not playing effectively during that period of time. I think they will tell you the same thing. Adam Dunn made the statement one day. He was very frustrated. We won those seven or eight games in a row and during that period in there—the five or six game mark—he said: ‘I don’t know we didn’t do this earlier. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have played like this earlier.’ We just didn’t. He didn’t have an answer for it. He certainly wasn’t putting that on Manny and he wasn’t putting that on me. He was saying we should have been doing this all along. And when you don’t do it, the manager is the one to get fired. I have been on the end of that.”

Question: How has the media landscape changed since you first started managing how many years ago?

Jim: “Tremendously. I started managing in The Big Leagues basically in ’93, that was my first full year. I talked to a couple of writers a day. One radio person a day, maybe do a TV shot for the local station. When I went to Chicago, even though it was a big market, it was again two or three beat writers and one radio station to deal with and no internet, no blogging, and not as much scrutiny on everything. And there was more then (in terms of coverage) than there was in the ‘70’s. But in the ‘90’s to now, we do a press conference at 4PM before the game. We do a press conference after the game with the MASN background—whereas everything was done in my office wherever I was at (before). There was no local network with a station that carried every team in baseball and doing it with this in the background (Logo Banners) of whatever team it is. And I like it. I like the idea that you can to talk to people, explain some things that people think you are not doing right. You get the opportunity to stand here and say this is why I did that. So, I personally like it, but I think it can wear on you. A lot of people get worn out by it and it is one of the reasons they don’t want to do this job (manage), because they don’t want to be answering those questions all the time.”

Question: I was living in Chicago when you were the manager there and followed The Cubs. You talked about Jordan Zimmermann and how he was handled in his pitch counts. If you look back it’s pretty different, he was used a lot more cautiously than Kerry Wood was. But I am interested in hearing you talk about what you have learned, what the game has learned, over the course of the last ten years on how young pitchers are handled and those two particular pitchers?

Jim: “Yeah, it’s ’09 and that took place in ’98 when I managed him. It’s been 11 years since then and I am still answering questions about Kerry Wood because he got hurt and he was Stephen Strasburg (young & dominant stud pitcher). He was that good. The thing about Kerry was we were in a pennant race. We were trying to get in the playoffs. So, if you were a part of the team in a pennant race, two things are going to happen. Your starters are going to pitch well, because you wouldn’t be in a pennant race if your starters weren’t pitching well. And if they are pitching well, you are trying to win the game.”

“As a manager I never said: ‘Come on, get Kerry Wood up. I need Kerry Wood!’ After a very short time, early in the year, they (Cubs Management) said: ‘Hey, Kerry Wood is coming up.’ OK, he is here--he is going to pitch. So, we basically treated him like we treated everyone else. If he was pitching effectively, he pitched. If he was pitching ineffectively, we took him out. Now, when you are a young power pitcher it takes you a lot of pitches to get it done because your stuff is so good the hitters are fouling pitches off. They are taking pitches. There are strikeouts. There are a lot of pitches. So, health wise, the best thing for Kerry Wood would have been if we weren’t in a pennant race because we would have just shut him down after 90 to 100 pitches every game and get him out. But my recollection of pitching him, he would have 115 pitches six or seven innings into it. And I would take him out and the fans were howling. ‘How could you take him out?’--because we would lose those games when I took him out. It was uplifting to the other team when I took him out. I didn’t have anybody to get me from him to (Rod) Beck. In between there, we would usually get beat. So it was always about you should have never taken him out. You took him out and he has 13 strikeouts in seven innings. Or, after six innings, why did you take him out?”

“And once he got operated on: ‘why did you pitch him so much? You left him out there too long!’ So l learned from it that if I had to do it over again—I would not have pitched him that much. I wouldn’t have known that he was going to get hurt, but if I had known he was going to get hurt, I would have said: ‘You know what? We are just going to have to lose these games.’ But, I didn’t know he was going to get hurt. And he didn’t really (’98). He pitched in the playoffs that year for us. When he came to spring training the next year, the wear and tear of that previous year, I am sure, was the reason his elbow blew out. You know, they (pitchers) just get hurt. When we (The Cubs) signed him, they said he had a ligament issue in his elbow—that was in high school. But he was so good, they signed him and we ran with it. So it was probably inevitable (Wood would get hurt).”

“Jordan Zimmermann was monitored a lot closer than we monitored Kerry Wood and he got hurt. It seems unavoidable, but your conscience is more clear if you take the cautious approach.”

Question: First half of the season, the team is last in the league in defensive proficiency. It has picked up some since the All-Star break. What do you attribute that too?

Jim: “It is almost hard for me to believe that we are last because I feel like we have really played pretty good defense and we just can’t get out of that last slot there. But, we have really worked hard at it. And this is where, sort of like the question earlier, what is the difference when Manny was here and now I am here? And I promise you; Manny was really pounding them on the defense. We are going to get out there and we are going to work early before batting practice. We are going to work, work, work and if you don’t like it, there is the door. And it rained every day and we couldn’t get on the field. The tarp was on the field. We just couldn’t get the consistent work. From the time I took over, we have almost never been rained off the field. All that work we wanted to do early, we were able to it. And I think it paid off. I think the players were genuinely embarrassed by our play defensively and started to take a little more pride in it and we got better results. Some of the other teams must have too—because we haven’t leapfrogged any of the other teams defensively—at least statistically.”

Last Question: For a guy that wasn’t really known for his glove, Adam Dunn seems very comfortable at first base. He seems to be doing a pretty good job. What is you assessment of what he has done?

Jim: “I think he has done pretty good. The first of several times he was there (playing 1st base) after Nick (Johnson) was traded—anytime we had the opportunity—we put (Ronnie) Belliard over there and took him (Adam) out of the game if we were winning. And when we went to only four extra men (on the bench) instead of five because we were carrying an extra pitcher—that made it harder to do that (replacement). So, the accommodation of being more comfortable there and not having the bench players to cover that move—we left him out there. And he has done OK. There are some balls that go into that hole between first and second—to his right—that we have got to find a way to read the ball off the bat a little better with left handed hitters and he has acknowledged that. He is not seeing that ball off the bat as quickly as he would like. So we have got to do a couple of things to improve that, but he is catching the ball fine. What I like about Adam is what is coming out of his mouth. He is communicating on the relays. The little subtle things between him and (Ryan) Zimmerman that he talks about--who is going to be the cut-off man, his communication on the bunt plays. He’s into it. He is energized by playing the position. He’s taken some pride to it and that is what is encouraging to me.”

With that final answer--the Blogger Day Media Availability with Interim Manager Jim Riggleman concluded.

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