Inside Pitch Live with Manager Jim Riggleman

Riggleman inside pitch 3.JPGJim Riggleman spent 20 minutes on Saturday in the PNC Diamond Club fielding questions from MASN Commentator Rob Dibble as well as fans for the third installment of Inside Pitch Live.

Are you surprised at how well the Nationals are playing?

“Two things. I can’t say I’m totally surprised, but I guess I’m pleased with the play of our three middle infielders–Guzman, Kennedy, and Desmond. The unselfishness of Kennedy and Guzman to accept their roles on the ballclub–they’re playing a lot, but they’re not playing every day because Desi is at shortstop. Their attitude has been a real key for our ballclub.

The other thing, and I kind of knock on wood as I say it, is our pitching. Coming out of Spring Training, I was very concerned with Olsen, we signed Hernandez very late in the spring, we had a couple of young starters that we weren’t sure about–but we’ve pitched pretty good. We’ve pitched good enough to win more ballgames than we’ve won. That’s been something I’ve been very happy about. We hope that it continues and we know that it can. But it was a little bit of a concern coming out of spring.”

Are you surprised to see [Matt] Capps pitching so well ?

“Yeah. Matt in Spring Training, really was throwing okay. He was just okay. He threw the ball 90 mph, he threw strikes, he got hit around a little bit, but it’s not that often that you see a guy really turn it on when the lights come on. I know yourself and Randy Myers 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, great strikes, great impressiveness. 15-for-15–that doesn’t happen very often.”

Is coming back to this area like coming full circle for you?

“It really is. I grew up here, you know, the TV’s got Frank Robinson running around the bases. I grew up watching Frank Howard and Frank Robinson and went away to play ball for years. I was disappointed that baseball got away from Washington. When it came back, by then, I had been pretty deep in the ballgame in several different locations, and I thought in the back of my mind, that would be a nice place to work and hopefully my last job in baseball.”

Riggleman inside pitch 2.JPGHow did you make the decision to transition from being a player and having aspirations of being a Major Leaguer to then go into coaching?

“When you play in the Minor Leagues for a long time, you get to the point where they make the decision for you. They say, ‘Look. If you want to keep playing, you can 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, a 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 loved the game, I thought I could continue playing, but I had played seven years. 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 in the organization and 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 limits on yourself and I ended up, as you said, coming full cycle.”

As far as mentors, besides Tony La Russa, any other mentors in the game?

“Two guys. The late George Kissell. I always speak about George. Most people are probably not familiar with who he is. In a nutshell, he never played in the Big Leagues, but out of Tony La Russa’s mouth, Tony said ‘he’s probably the greatest Cardinal ever’–which can kind of go in one ear and out the other, but you figure there’s been Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and all this, but George Kissell had an impact on everybody who 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 is probably the best pure baseball man I’ve ever been around. To be able to sit around and watch him work was a great treat for me.”

How has the running game helped the Nationals?

“Well, the running game has really slowed down lately, but earlier in the year, as we went around our division the first time, I think we created some opportunities for ourselves with Kennedy and Willingham and a couple other guys who the other clubs were not, maybe, in tune with them running as much. So we created some action that way. But with scouting now, everybody knows what you’re going to do. Willingham and Kennedy and Desmond, people that there was no history of running there, that’s [now] gone. Everyone’s got the information. They’re going to try to stop you from running. Nyjer is a guy who is trying to run all the time, but the other clubs are so in tune to him, the pitchers aren’t letting him go anywhere. But the running game helped us early and we’ve got to get back to that. But we’re going to have to keep pushing the envelope a little bit to get that going again.”

How has Pudge Rodriguez helped the ballclub?

“He’s just such a good player. When the pitchers are throwing to catchers, you know, you catch it and you throw it back, and you just take that for granted. But last year, due to some 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 it, it’s because he earned it. He stole the base or whatever. But last year too often I think our pitchers were concerned about pitches they could throw because they were going to get by the catcher. Last year, Josh Bard gave us everything he had, but he played hurt for us and Nieves’ leg was hurt. So just having a healthy Pudge back there, blocking the ball–he has been huge. He’s worked great with our pitching staff and he’s a good hitter.”

How do you come to decisions during the game about who to use and when to use pinch hitters?

“In today’s world, we carry so many pitchers. We carry 12 pitchers. That’s a lot. It used to be ten, it went to 11, 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 outs or basically with nobody on base period, you hate to use a guy and not have him available later. It was very early in the game, so we decided to do that [put Livan in as a pinch hitter]. We actually did it again later with Batista, let him hit for himself and continue pitching, with no intention that he would get a hit. He was hitting for himself so he could continue pitching, although he did get a hit.”

Riggleman inside pitch 4.JPGAre you a fan of Interleague Play or does it disrupt the flow of the season, trying to catch the Phillies, trying to catch the Marlins and worry about the NL East?

“I’m not a real big fan of it, but I’m okay with it. I like the Baltimore series. I like it–you’re the Mets you play the Yankees, Cubs play the White Sox. I think those are important. I like that. I’m not crazy about Oakland playing Washington or Oakland playing the Mets or something. If it draws interest, if fans want to see it, then it is great. If there are some indications, and I think there are some indications that fans do want to see those other players, so that’s always a good thing for the fans.”

What goes into the process of picking lineup?

“A lot goes into it. A lot of times, you’re thinking two or three days ahead of time–who you are going to be facing, what pitchers you’re going to be facing. Maybe some guys have some history against particular pitchers. Maybe your pitcher that day is a groundball 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’s going to get a lot of action. I knew that I was going to give Desmond a day off here in the next day or two, but with Scott Olsen pitching yesterday, I wanted Desmond at short, thinking right-handed hitters will be hitting some groundballs. As it turned it, he was tender, the ball was up, and it was a nonfactor. But those things go into it. You want to play guys while they’re hot, but also day game after night game, that goes into it. Left- or right-handed pitcher. We’re like everybody else. You want to get to the point where you’re 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. But those players have earned that. Those players are in there every day because they hit everybody. That’s where we want to get to, but we’re not quite there yet.”

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