Results tagged ‘ Jim Riggleman ’

Day 13 in Viera: Grapefruit League Opener Eve

Grapefruit League Opening Day Eve here on the Space Coast.

My name is John Dever and I’m the Baseball PR contact for your Nationals. To write this blog, I get lots of guidance and observations from Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, my PR confidants, so I thank them for their contributions.

Lots happening… so let’s get started.

* Today’s high will reach 86 degrees. Almost toasty, yes, but comfortable thanks to a gentle breeze. So, the perfect spring continues. Last year, it may not have hit 70 degrees during the February workouts. This year, at least since pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 15, the temps have not dipped below 70, with temps comfortably in the high 70s during the late-morning workouts.

* Jim Riggleman brought up a good point this morning during his session with the assembled media. This spring’s perfect weather to date has allowed the Nationals to get everything that they needed in. Every drill that Jim Riggleman and Spring Training Coordinator Bobby Henley scheduled went off without a hitch. Every one. That NEVER happens. And this should give the Nationals a sense of comfort heading into the Grapefruit League schedule, which begins tomorrow. The team is ready. [VIDEO: More Riggleman]

* Rick Ankiel is an interesting guy. Most know his story. A stud-pitcher-turned-outfielder who signed with the Nationals in December without a guaranteed starting spot. Well, one of the drawing cards for Ankiel was likely his preexisting relationship with Nationals hitting guru Rick Eckstein. After retiring as a pitcher, Ankiel immediately jumped back into St. Louis’ Minor League system in the hopes of becoming an outfielder. Ankiel and Eckstein worked together in Triple-A Memphis in 2008, things “clicked” and the results were phenomenal. Ankiel hit 32 home runs in 102 Pacific Coast League games before being summoned by the Cardinals on August 9, 2008. The hot streak did not end there, as Ankiel hit 11 more bombs in 43 games with the Cardinals. In fact, that summer, Ankiel’s 43 homers led the Cardinals entire organization, as Albert Pujols only (only?) hit 37. So, here’s hoping things “click” again for Ankiel and Eckstein and that they can regain their momentum from the summer of 2008.

91010-202 danny espinosa.jpg* We’ve “talked” a lot about Danny Espinosa’s conversion from shortstop to second base. Which begs the question: who made a similar conversion early in their career? The two best-case scenarios for Nationals fans to salivate over are Alfonso Soriano (a shortstop in the Yankees’ organization, converted to second base in 2001) and Brandon Phillips (a shortstop in the Expos’ organization, converted to second base in 2003). Now, both are All-Stars and Espinosa is not yet at that level, but it does go to show that this type of position change has occurred before and the results have been favorable both offensively and defensively (especially in the case of Phillips).

* With Davey Johnson in camp as an advisor to Mike Rizzo, it’s hard to believe that this is the 25th Anniversary of the iconic 1986 Mets. Where has the time gone. Well, actually, Nationals fans and Beltway baseball junkies likely best remember Davey for his playing days and later his successful managerial stint with the Orioles.

* Today’s “Four Questions” victim will be first baseman Chris Marrero, but before we channel our inner-Marrero, let’s take a look at his career. Marrero, as most know, was the Nationals’ first-rounder in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of Monsignor Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Fla. His assent through Washington’s system has not been as rapid as some outsiders would like, but it has been steady. He has averaged a long ball every 29.6 at-bats in five seasons as a pro. That is not a number to sneeze at. Yes, the level is dramatically different, but here are three National Leaguers who averaged a homer every 29-or-so at-bats last season: Jason Heyward (28.9), Justin Upton (29.1) and Casey Blake (29.9). All three are very good ballplayers, and in the case of Heyward and Upton, two of the great young players in the game. Marrero, who had Lasik surgery in the offseason, has immense power and his career is trending in the right direction. Alright, back to “Four Questions”…

Favorite Team/Player as a Youth?: Marlins, Frank Thomas (wonder if he knows that Mike Rizzo signed Big Frank?)

Favorite Game Show of all-time?: Deal or No Deal (he attended a taping of this show a few years back)

Favorite Superhero?: Spider Man (might help him with some errant throws at first base)

Most apt to watch CNN, Food Network or Travel Channel (and list favorite show)?: None of the above. My favorite show is re-runs of “Vegas” on TNT (with all of the bad shows on network TV, why was this show canceled. Seriously perplexing).

OK, that’s a wrap for today. Tomorrow, look for Mark Lerner to jump into the blogging fray as the Nationals travel to St. Lucie to take on the Mets. He will be your primary blogger going forward, but I may jump back in here and there. Thanks for your interest in the Nationals and see you at the ballpark. Oh, you can also follow us on Twitter (@NationalsPR).

Day 3 in Viera: That Familiar Pop of Ball Meeting Glove

Greetings again. OK, weather check. It was a bit cloudy for most of the morning today, but temps reached 71. The wind was light and pleasant. Not perfect, but in the realm of really comfortable. The sun came out in earnest in the afternoon. I am in the midst of my eighth Spring Training in Viera and this is the best weather we’ve had right from the get-go. Usually things get very nice in March, but this year’s sunny skies seem to have come a bit early. No one is complaining.

So who is this guy who’s in his eighth Spring Training in Viera? My name is John Dever and I’m the PR Director for the Nationals baseball operation. With the help of Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna, I’m stringing together some ideas, sights/sounds, and vignettes from the Nationals 2011 Spring Training camp. As I’ve said before, we are merely batting leadoff on this blog for another few days before Mark Lerner jumps into the captain’s seat to share his own views on what’s happening with the Nationals during their stay in Camp Riggleman.  

* Today we saw baseball players actually playing baseball in uniform as part of the first workout for pitchers and catchers. We heard balls popping into new leather gloves. A nice sound no doubt, one trumped only by the distinctive bat-on-rawhide vocals we will begin to hear next week. But we are officially underway.

* Before the workout Jim Riggleman gathered everyone together to remind the pitchers that “no one is making the ballclub today.” In essence, Skipper was telling them not to risk injury by coming out of the chute too hard and too fast. That does no one any good. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for an injury-free season for all.  

* 15 pitchers from Group A threw their first bullpens of the Spring. We saw, among others, Livan Hernandez, Chien-Ming Wang, Collin Balester (who threw gas BTW!), Jordan Zimmermann and Tyler Clippard take the hill.

* It is true, Stephen Strasburg played catch today with Head Athletic Trainer Lee Kuntz. In all, Strasburg made 70 throws with Kuntz from 30-45 feet. It was a natural motion, one that I’m sure you can see tonight on the local TV sportscasts. BTW, look for one-on-one interviews with Strasburg tonight on WUSA (Brett Haber) and Comcast Sports Net (Kelli Johnson). On a side note, Stephen won a lucrative $100 bet today from his pitching coach, Steve McCatty. The bet hinged on Strasburg’s assertion that he would have “six-pack abs” by the first day of Spring Training. Word from the clubhouse is that McCatty is eating Ramen Noodles tonight because his meal money is now in Strasburg’s pocket!

* Early Bird Gets the Worm Award to RHP Cole Kimball, who showed up at Space Coast Stadium this morning for his first day in Big League camp at 5:25 a.m. He beat everyone to the park, including Special Assistant Pat Corrales, who is a bit ticked off he wasn’t first. Cole is a workout warrior who throws very hard. Very excited to see him perform in games in a few weeks.

* Truly incredible performance this morning from RHP Yunesky Maya, who threw his body around like a rag doll while fielding comebackers off the bat of Rick Schu. Granted, this drill entails the use of padded baseballs, but Maya made some truly dazzling stops. Must be something about Cuban pitchers because in my mind, countryman Livan Hernandez is the best fielding pitcher I have ever witnessed.

* Book Club Note of the Day:  Tyler Clippard spent the dying weeks of his offseason reading Men’s Health Muscle Chow by Gregg Avedon. 150 meals to feed your muscles and fuel your workouts. I wonder how many of those 150 meals contain “Peaches?” In true bachelor fashion, Tyler told us that he prepared none of those meals himself, but rather had a personal chef to fix the meals for him.

That’s it for now – ’til we meet tomorrow, when we chronicle Yunesky Maya’s first bullpen session in Viera, and more.

Day 2 in Viera: Pitchers Take Center Stage

Hi again. I hate to rub it in—as I heard that it’s cold again in DC—but the temperature reached 72 here in Viera today. In fact, the highs for the next four days are slated to be 73 (Thu.), 74 (Fri.), 73 (Sat.) and 73 (Sun.). Now that’s baseball weather! To be more specific, that’s San Diego baseball weather.

Spring Training really is a unique time. No other sport can even touch it. I hope everyone reading this blog can someday experience firsthand the warmth, rhythm and optimism that is nearly palpable at a big league Spring Training camp. Let’s just say you have an open invitation to joins us anytime here in Viera!

I’m John Dever, the PR Director for the Nationals baseball operation, and I will be posting some miscellaneous observations (along with those of my trusty sidekicks, Mike Gazda and Bill Gluvna) over the next week or so that will hopefully appeal to all of you Nats fans out there. But really, the three of us are just saving Mark Lerner’s spot. Mark will be blogging about his Spring Training experiences starting next week. He began blogging during the ’10 Winter Meetings and he is eager to restart his blogging engines.

So here’s a run-down of today’s happenings:

*Saw Stephen Strasburg today. He looked … great. His core is noticeably stronger. And as good as he looked physically, his spirits appeared higher. While I’m sure he is bummed he won’t be throwing his first bullpen this week, I have a feeling he long ago accepted his fate and began channeling his energies toward a successful return. The media will meet with Stephen on Thursday, so I’m sure you will be reading more on his outlook directly from him by this time on Thursday. But here’s the bottom line: as anxious as we all are for the return of Stephen Strasburg “the pitcher,” it was fantastic to see Stephen Strasburg “the person” today.

102572427.jpg*Please note that no matter what you read, Jim Riggleman yesterday did not name Livan Hernandez our Opening Day starter. But Riggs did indicate that Livan is the leading candidate, and that he earned that dubbing via his performance last season (10-12, 3.66 ERA, 22 quality starts in 33 starting assignments). This would not be Livan’s first Opening Day nod. He’s earned that honor seven times during his career. Not many pitchers can say they have toed the rubber seven times on Opening Day.

*Newest arrival among position players: Roger Bernadina (who flew in on the Amsterdam-Viera express). Roger spent a good chunk of his offseason in The Netherlands, but as he told me, he gets plenty of work in there, as there is more baseball played there than any other European country. He works out with other pros there at an indoor facility, so that might give you an indication of The Netherland’s place in the baseball universe.

*Chien-Ming Wang is back and, like Strasburg, his spirits are high after spending the majority of his offseason working out and strengthening his right shoulder in Phoenix. There will be no limitations placed on Wang as tomorrow we embark on the first formal workout of the spring.

*Hair update: Strasburg’s beard that you may have spied in the offseason is gone. He’s back to the familiar chin patch.

*Local Nationals coverage reminder: Jordan Zimmermann will be on “Overtime” with Bill Rohland on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on 106.7 fm The Fan.

Riggleman visits Frederick Memorial Hospital

Jim Riggleman FMH Visit.JPGEarlier this week, Nats Manager Jim Riggleman teamed-up with Screech and toured the newly-opened Pediatric Emergency Department at Frederick Memorial Hospital.


A native of Rockville, Md., Riggleman didn’t hesitate when presented the opportunity to visit the facility by his former Frostburg State University teammate Ken Coffey, who now serves as president/chief development officer of the hospital.


“I’ve got a lot of family up here,” Riggleman said. “My mother was treated here. It’s a great hospital. I’m just really appreciative of how well my mother and other members of my family have been treated here through the years, so I got the opportunity to come back up here and jumped at that.”


During the visit, the Nationals skipper signed autographs and spoke with patients, their families and staff members for nearly an hour before attending a speaking engagement with the Rotary Club of Frederick.

Nats introduce their newest team member: Adam LaRoche

Adam LaRoche introduced at Nats Park.JPGIt has been one of those hunting years for Adam LaRoche. For all the non-hunters, it just means he hasn’t had a very productive hunting season–to be clear, those are by his own standards. He has only bagged a few bucks. Keep in mind, most hunters would consider it a prosperous year. He just hasn’t seen many deer and the ones he has seen, they aren’t big enough–again, by his own standards. The adage, “It’s brown, it’s down,” doesn’t apply to him. He lets 10-point bucks walk. “I used to have the philosophy when I was a little kid but not anymore.”  He doesn’t want Bambi’s Dad, he wants Bambi’s great, great Grandpa. When you have standards like that, all you can do is get some friends together and start a TV show… and call it
Buck Commander. (We will speak more in-depth about this next week.)

It has been one of those years in the tree stand and it was one of those days on the press conference stage too. LaRoche was formally introduced to reporters today at Nationals Park but it didn’t go without a minor hiccup, make that two. The Nationals hat they had for him was a size 7 3/4, about two sizes two big. The hat would have even had trouble fitting if he had hair like Tom Brady or Justin Bieber–sorry for being redundant. “I got a big head, but not that big,” he said.

After he put his oversized hat on, he started to button up his jersey incorrectly. He put the first button through the second hole, the second button through the third hole, etc. It was an insignificant mistake and that’s why he never noticed it but it was big enough that everyone could see it. After about 30 seconds of his wife desperately trying to get his attention to notify him of the error–and she did–he corrected the problem. It was just one of those funny incidents that allowed everyone to laugh. If those are the only two errors that happen during his time here, it will have been a very successful stint–even by LaRoche standards. Everyone is hoping for one of those years for LaRoche; the kind of year where he wins a Gold Glove and helps propel the Nats in the standings.

Manager Jim Riggleman is still scribbling lineups on napkins so the 3-4-5 combination is still not set in stone but LaRoche will fit right into the middle of the Nats lineup with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. It will depend who’s hot, who’s not or if Riggleman wants to go right-left-right.

Adam LaRoche introduced at Nats Park 2.JPGLaRoche is the second marquee player the Nats have signed this offseason–Werth being the first back in December–and it is all part of GM Mike Rizzo’s long-term plan of building a high-powered, defensively-sound club. It is also changing the perception of the Washington Nationals.

“I think it has helped,” LaRoche said. “It is still something you have to go out and earn. You have to do it with winning. It is definitely a good start. I think I can speak for everyone here. They are just tired of losing and that’s why a lot of these moves are taking place and moving in a positive direction.”

The best way to describe Adam LaRoche is as Adam Dunn’s less boisterous brother. Aside from their looks, it is hard to believe they aren’t from the same gene pool. They are both very low-key and even-keeled. They live and breathe hunting, and play the same position. LaRoche will immediately fill the void left by Dunn when he signed this offseason with the White Sox. They are two different players but they are both a model of consistency. LaRoche has hit at least 20 home runs that past six seasons and is good for a .270 average, .350 on-base percentage, 20 to 25 home runs, and 85 to 100 RBI a year. They aren’t Adam Dunn numbers but what he lacks with the bat he makes up with the glove.

“I don’t compare myself to Adam,” LaRoche said. “We are two different players other than that we play the same position… I play my own game.  I am not going to put pressure on myself to try to do what he did and match his numbers–good or bad, defense, offense–and I am sure he is the same way.”

LaRoche won’t try to be Dunn. He is just going to be the player that he has been the past seven seasons who has got the job done. It’s just like hunting in many ways. You can sit for a week straight and not see anything but then you see the trophy buck and you quickly forget about the past week. The Nationals will never completely forget about Dunn, but LaRoche can help minimize the loss.

One more thing–There is no question Dunn diligently worked each day to improve his defense at first base and the proof was in his progress. At the same time, he was still like an offensive lineman at first base and that limited his range. It cost the Nats runs. So if there is one difference between the two: Dunn hits home runs and LaRoche robs runs.

“I have always said, hitting is streaky,” LaRoche said. “You are going to have your hot streaks and you are going to have your slumps. Defense is special–especially in the infield and at my position. I have the chance to bail guys out a lot. I can make them look really bad or really good, and vice versa. It is something I have always taken pride in. I love when those guys make a great play and an errant throw and be able to bail them out and save a couple of runs. I think pitchers appreciate it just as much as the player who threw the ball in the dirt. It is something I work hard on.”

Quote Sheet: Jim Riggleman from Winter Meetings

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Curly W Live programming to bring you some insights from Manager Jim Riggleman on the signing of Jayson Werth and the state of the rest of the roster. Keep checking back for more musings from Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner throughout the week.

More: Blog Entry #1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8

JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Actually when I got here, I knew that we had made this trade.  Mike and I talked a lot about players like Jayson and others, and you know, I knew who Mike had his sights on.  You know, we had expressed it thoughts on a lot of players, but you know, it was very much under the radar, kept quiet, and so I basically found out when I got here.


            Q.  How does it feel for the first time in your career to have money to spend on players?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t know if it’s the first time.  I felt that I’ve been fortunate to manage in places and owners have always been generous in trying to put the best players we can out there.

            Sometimes your ownership group is trying to get players, and the players don’t take the money.  You know, you offer good money and they find something else somewhere.  But you know, in this case, I think it’s very encouraging, not only with Jayson, but with Bryce Harper and the commitment to Ryan Zimmerman a few years ago; I think that there’s a history here of trying to go out through the ballclub, whether it’s through trades, free agents, whatever, but there’s a great commitment to player development.

            I think this is a great sign for the organization and our fans that the ballclub is serious about having a better future for this organization.


            Q.  You talk about messages, in terms of the money that you’re paying Jayson says that you believe we can be a middle of the lineup, superstar‑caliber player.  In Philadelphia, he had other bats around him.  Do you feel he can be that kind of guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think that ‑‑ we are not really approaching it as, okay, you have to be the centerpiece of this organization.  You know, we just feel like he’s a very good player that has done some great things in Philadelphia.

            And you’re right, he’s around a lot of good players, but we can put players around him.  We still have Ryan Zimmerman there and we have Willingham there and we have a first baseman that will drive in runs one way or another.  He’s not going to feel that he’s alone there in the lineup.

            His athleticism and his talent, he’s surrounded by other good athletes, and you know, we just want to play baseball.  We are not looking for him to come in redefine his numbers.  If he does what he’s done in the past, that’s a great thing and if he does a little more, a little less, it’s still going to be a great thing, because he’s really done some great things last few years.


            Q.  Have you had a chance to talk to him at all?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I have not talked to him yet, no.


            Q.  Assuming you get a first baseman, your outfield looks a little crowded; do you feel like there are enough at‑bats for everyone there and do you feel that you have an excess there and maybe need to make a move to open spots for other guys?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, I think we want to have about five guys there, and if you add up what we have got there now, that’s about what we have.  Will something else happen?  Yeah, it might happen.  There might be another acquisition, might be a trade that clears it up.  We really are early into not just the Winter Meetings, but we are still early into the off‑season.  A lot of things can still happen.  I’m not sure how it will shake out exactly.  But you know, we just try to divvy up the at‑bats as best we can and keep guys as productive as we can.


Q.  Would you feel comfortable with the infield now, or do you feel like you need another utility‑type guy for insurance or just to have another body?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think maybe in a perfect world, maybe is that player will be able to do a little bit of both, move around.  In the National League, it’s nice to have guys who can go in the infield and outfield and have a guy or two like that.  So that might be something to look at.

            No, I’m very happy with Gonzalez, Espinosa, Desmond right now. 


            Q.  Is your first impulse, where to bat Jayson; the Phillies were reluctant to bat him in the 3‑hole, he batted 5 and sometimes in the 2‑hole.  What are your thoughts of him and Zimmerman and how you might do that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think it depends on who plays first base and where that person hits and what kind of protection that person can give for either Ryan or Jayson.

            My recollection is there were times where Howard and Utley were both hurt at the same time and Jayson did fill that spot in the middle pretty good at third or fourth and productive.  If that is where he is at, that will be fine.

            I think what happens, if Willingham is out there, he’s good protection for Ryan.  If it’s a left‑hand hitting first baseman, it might be protection there in that way.


            Q.  How important is it to you to acquire the kind of bench guys, that can play infield, outfield, that have more versatility from multiple guys to give you options late in the game, and was that a problem last year?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, it really wasn’t a problem.  I don’t ‑‑ again, I think we might have put Gonzalez out there a couple of innings one time, at least we talked about it.

            I think Gonzalez could do that.  But you know, Willy could do that last year, he could go in the infield or outfield last year.  It just so happens we had so many infielders, we didn’t use him in the infield very much.

            It’s comforting to know, as the game plays out, and you have to do certain things in the game, the way the lineups turn over, that you have somebody that can fill a lot of different roles.

            It’s nice to know that Jayson is a very comparable center fielder as well as right fielder.  We are getting more athletic, is what it amounts to.  We are getting a little more versatile, a little more athletic.


            Q.  Is Nyjer your center fielder or is it a competition between him and Roger going into the spring?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think Nyjer is our center fielder.  I think Bernie played his best baseball defensively in left, did okay in right, did fine in center but I thought he really excelled in left field.

            You know, Josh is out there, so Bernie is going to be fighting for at‑bats.

           Q.  You mentioned left‑handed hitting first baseman provides protection; how much does Pena fit that bill?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  We are like a lot of teams.  We like Carlos Pena.  We really liked Adam Dunn.  Adam Dunn did a great job for us and we appreciate everything he did.  We made what we feel is a good offer to Adam and Adam and his agent did a great job; they got a better deal.  But that left‑handed bat there was nice to have, and you know, we feel like Carlos is a guy who can do that.  There’s three or four other names, you know, that can do it. 

            Whatever comes up, I’m sure it’s going to be a good option.


            Q.  A lot of people were surprised that Jayson got as much money as he did.  What’s your reaction to that?  Were you in on the dollars?  Did you have any idea?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I’m not in on that.  But the thing is, the money, you know, when you’re managing, the players play.  The money doesn’t play.  You put a ballplayer out there.  You don’t put the money out there.

            You know, one of our brightest spots on our team last year was a minimum‑salary guy in Ian Desmond.  We had great things out of our higher‑paid players, also.

            You know, when you’re managing the players, you just feel fortunate to have them and you don’t look at how much money they make and judge it.  You just evaluate the talent that you have, and sometimes the guys that don’t make much money play good and sometimes the guys that make a lot of money have a down year.

            You just try to make the best acquisitions that you can and have the best player development that you can have feeding your big league club and hopefully it all comes to fruition.


            Q.  Did you have a chance to watch Bryce Harper in the Fall League?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I only saw him in the instructional league, very impressive.  Bryce, he’s met every challenge.  He met the challenge of going into college early; the challenge of playing in the instructional league and in the Fall League as a young guy.  He’s met every challenge tremendously.  He’s fit in well with his teammates.  He’s done everything that could be asked of him, and you know, he’s just on a time frame of, go play baseball and sooner or later, he’s going to be in the big leagues.


            Q.  In Spring Training, what is sort of the plan, just in terms of ‑‑ does he get a locker in the big league clubhouse or is he a Minor League guy?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You kind of forget.  He’s on the 40‑man roster, so he’s in the big league ‑‑ in that case, he’ll be there.

            He’ll get a lot of attention, I’m sure, just as Stephen Strasburg did last year.  But he’ll be in big league camp and get some at‑bats.  If the at‑bats look like they are starting to get too infrequent, we will get him down to Minor League camp where he’s pitching every day.


            Q.  But he’ll get at‑bats in the big league exhibitions?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Yeah, we’ll get him some at‑bats.


            Q.  Can you talk about Stephen, how is he progressing?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  You know, my understanding is he’s doing very well, but the process is what it is.  It’s a 12‑ to 18‑month process, and each goal that he tries to reach with his rehab, he’s meeting those goals.  We anticipate it’s going to be 12 to 18 months just like originally said.

            Q.  If you guys are not able to get that big name pitcher that might still be out there, how comfortable are you with what you have in your rotation at the moment?  Is it set in stone already, are there spots up for grabs or how would you look at that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Our rotation, there’s 5‑ to seven starters there right now that Mike wanted to add somebody to it.  But that’s very difficult to do.  And Mike’s made great efforts to do it.  As I said, there’s been one or two guys who were offered nice contracts that they got something somewhere else and stayed where they were at originally or whatever.

            So it’s been difficult to add a quality starter.  So as Mike continues to look for that and that opportunity to add there, we are really focusing on some bullpen stuff.  We feel like our bullpen did a good job last year but maybe we can strengthen our strength.


            Q.  What would that look like, adding another guy who could fill a specific role or a closer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I don’t think we would add a closer.  I think as Mike has indicated, ideally we would get somebody who maybe has had some experience in the ninth inning but not necessarily a classic closer.  Those guys are just not going to show up.

            So I think with Clifford and Storen and Burnett, we have got guys there that are not intimidated by the ninth inning, but if we can add another guy or two, that is also comfortable pitching in the 7th; that on a given day, needs to pick up the slack and go into the ninth for us, and again, he’s not ‑‑ the ninth inning isn’t too big of a situation for him to handle.


            Q.  Do you see deciding on one of those guys as your closer or is it going to be maybe just all three of them will pitch the ninth inning depending on circumstance?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  In a perfect world, you have a guy who does it, but our guy who we kind of look to do that down the road is Storen and that being the case, we want to allow him to gravitate towards that.

            If it happens sooner than later, it’s great, but if he gets some help doing it in the meantime, again, I’ll point to a couple of the best closers, really, didn’t pitch the ninth inning until they were about 25, 26 years old; Mariano Rivera and a few others.  They kind of found their way in the seventh and eighth inning for a couple of years and when Wetteland moved on, Mariano took it over and others have done the same thing.

            I think that that has proven to be a real good way for a guy to acclimate himself to that ninth inning is to get a little history behind him in the seventh and eighth, and Drew has got a little of that.  He’s pitched some in the ninth.  But again, we are not going to deny him if he’s clearly that option there, but we are not going to force it to happen, either.


            Q.  This off‑season, we have seen four managers hired, that have been with teams before.  You’ve been through that experience, I wanted to ask you, what is it like to try to get that second, maybe third job, what the process is like?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  Well, you know, these jobs are precious.  It’s hard to get a Major League managing job.  Just as Terry Collins spoke about that last week.  I completely understand what he’s saying.  These jobs, Major League coaching jobs, these are precious positions.  You work your whole life in baseball once you’re not a player to get into a position to coach and/or manage.

            So you know, quite often what happens is you get a job because the ballclub is struggling.  The Giants job ain’t going to be open, you know what I mean; Bruce Bochy has got that.  There are many capable people who have gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs, and many capable people who have not gotten the opportunity to manage these clubs.  When you get the opportunity, you are fortunate to get it.  You don’t really reflect on, you know, whether you were lucky or whatever.  You just appreciate the opportunity.


            Q.  As far as getting that second or third opportunity, what was the process like?  Was it a matter of staying in touch with general managers?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  No, I never stayed in touch with any general managers.  I just stayed in the game.  I went from ’99 to really middle of ’08, and never spoke to any general managers.  I just was working in the game and had various positions in the game and a position to manage arose, and I took it.

            It’s not a job you apply for.  These things evolve.  You don’t ‑‑ people know that ‑‑ we all know each other in the game.  Everybody knows what everybody wants to do.  But when I was coaching, I really appreciated the opportunity to coach.  Again, those are precious positions, and so I felt very fortunate to be coaching.  When I got the opportunity to manage, I took it.


            Q.  If Adam wasn’t signed and went to Chicago, there were stories written that Zimm was upset; has Mike talked to him since?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I’ve talked to him and we have texted a lot here lately.

            My message to Zimm was before Adam left, I hope we get Adam left, but if we don’t, Mike is going to have something there.  So when this has happened, with Jayson being there, it’s got be to comforting for Zimm to know that we are not tossing in the towel.  But there are going to be other examples between now and Opening Day that Zimm will be encouraged by.


            Q.  How challenging is it with turnover one year to the next in terms of free agency and trades in terms of how to handle that?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think we’ll have four or five guys from our bullpen last year that I have a lot of history with and I know maybe what the limits are that they can go to.  When you get new guys there is an adjustment period that you can go through and hopefully figure that out through conversations and through Spring Training and watching them work and how they respond on a second day and how they respond on three out of four days work or something.

            Spring Training is a pretty long process in today’s world.  By Opening Day, you have a pretty good feel for what a guy can handle.

            Q.  What improvements would you like to see in Nyjer?

            JIM RIGGLEMAN:  I think that, basically, the thing that we want Nyjer to do is get on base, a little higher rate, and to be there to be knocked in.

            The game is full of statistics, and there’s so many numbers out there.  But when it comes to offense, you’re either knocking them in or you’re scoring.  The rest of it is a little bit of eyewash.

            We want Nyjer to score and to score, he’s got to be on base.  We know he can do it.  He’s shown he can do it.  We just hope that he’s getting on base at a little higher clip, and that’s going to mean a little improvement against left‑handed pitching basically.

30 Players in 30 Days: Wilson Ramos

Wilson Ramos.JPGBuy low, sell high. That’s exactly what the Nationals did at the trade deadline when they turned a non-tendered, All-Star closer Matt Capps into one of the game’s top catching prospects–Wilson Ramos. The Twins solved a short term problem while the Nats could have their catcher of the future. Ramos went from learning from arguably the best catcher in the game today, Joe Mauer, to being mentored by the best catcher of the past 20 years and his childhood idol, Pudge Rodriguez. It isn’t a bad way to get prepared for the Majors.


“When I came here, I couldn’t believe it,” Ramos said. “Me and Pudge?”


He didn’t make it a secret either. On the first day with the Nationals, he told Pudge he was his favorite player. The two formed an immediate bond in September and the two talked about the intricacies of catching, calling a game, how to attack certain hitters and working with the pitchers.


“He’s special back there,” Jason Marquis said. “He’s definitely got a bright future. Real big target, real soft hands. He’s confident in what he’s doing back there. It makes you a little more confident on the mound. I enjoyed throwing to him.”


Ramos is a defensively sound, power-bat backstop and was the Twins best trade chip due to Mauer being entrenched behind the plate in Minneapolis. Ramos is regarded as one of baseball’s top prospects and entered 2010 rated as the Twins’ best power hitting prospect, best defensive catching prospect and No. 2 overall prospect according to industry insider Baseball America.


The 24-year-old batted .241 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 30 RBI in 71 games with Triple-A Rochester but he hit .316 with three home runs and eight RBI in 20 games with Triple-A Syracuse. Ramos debuted at the Double-A level last season and paced all Twins full-season farmhands in batting average (.317). He threw out 42 percent of would-be basestealers and was subsequently named the Eastern League’s No. 8 prospect.


The 6-foot-0, 220 pound Ramos is built like a linebacker and has legs like Secretariat. He made his Big League debut with Minnesota in May and went 4-for-5 and followed it up going 3-for-4 the next night. He will enter the spring as part of the Nats’ catching platoon with Rodriguez, much like how they rotated starts in September but he could become the No. 1 catcher.


“Ramos will come to Spring Training with an opportunity to be with Pudge,” Jim Riggleman said. “As the season would go, the hope would be that Ramos would get more and more playing time as the season goes next year and evolve into the No. 1 guy.”


Right now he is focused on playing winter ball in Venezuela for the Tigres de Aragua. He just started on Tuesday but he went 4-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI in his debut.

30 Players in 30 Days: Justin Maxwell

Justin Maxwell post grand slam.jpgIt is tough to describe Justin Maxwell’s season with one word but it was a journey, a constant journey between Syracuse and Washington. He entered Spring Training with a chance to start in right field, a spot left vacant when the Nats jettisoned Elijah Dukes on St. Patrick’s Day. He didn’t make the cut–literally at the plate or figuratively on the roster–and was sent to the Minors on one of the final days of camp. He made the journey back and forth between the Majors and Minors four times during the season and finally stuck with the Nats on August 2.

Maxwell has a long, equine stride the makes him look as graceful as a deer in the field but he has never found his rhythm at the plate with the Nationals. He started just 26 games–played in 67–and batted .144 (15-for-104) with three home runs, 12 RBI and 43 strikeouts. At the same time, he had 25 walks and a .305 OBP. It is there that lies the conundrum: he has a great eye at the plate but has too many holes in his swing and frequently strikes out. As an everyday center fielder for the Chiefs, he batted .287 (66-for-230) with six home runs, 21 RBI and a .390 OBP in 66 games.

The Maryland native never got a chance to play every day in the Majors and was used primarily against lefties. It raises the question… was he having trouble hitting because he wasn’t playing regularly or was he not playing regularly because he was having trouble hitting?

“To be a regular in the Big Leagues, you got to be able to hit right-handed pitching,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “It is a challenge, and he works very hard and he puts in a lot of time. …We’re waiting for it all to come together.”

When the bases are loaded, he doesn’t have a problem hitting any type of pitching. He is 3-for-5 with three home runs, one walk and 13 RBI with the bases full.

Maxwell isn’t at the crossroads of his career but the 2011 season will answer a lot of questions and determine his future as a Nationals player. Can he be an everyday Major League outfielder in the Majors? He doesn’t lack speed or talent but will he be able to consistently hit right-handed pitching? We will find out next year.

30 Players in 30 Days: Roger Bernadina

Roger Bernadina takes flight.jpgIt all clicked for Roger Bernadina on May 12 (see above). It was a dreary day in New York and the Nationals were preparing to play the rubber match of a three game series against the Mets at Citi Field. The conditions were far from perfect and maybe that’s why they were just right for Bernadina whose ascension through the Minors was anything but seamless.

The Nats’ coaching staff gathered like they do before every game and concluded that Bernadina was ready to show he was a Major League player. Manager Jim Riggleman boldly predicted Bernadina would hit a double and a triple in the afternoon’s game–not just record two hits but a double and a triple. It was like bravely betting the house on green in roulette–the odds were next to nil. Bernadina was batting .212 (7-for-33) with three runs and one RBI in 12 games.

It goes without saying, Riggleman was wrong in his prediction but he was right in the outcome. He just underestimated Bernadina a little bit. Bernadina went 3-for-5 and hit two home runs–including a two-run blast to right to win the game 6-4 in the top of the ninth. He also showed off his range in the outfield by robbing Jeff Francoeur of a three-run double in the fifth inning with a gravity-defying, highlight reel catch.

The break on May 12 was much different from the break he got in 2009–a type of break that ruins career not propels them. Bernadina fractured his right ankle while making a leaping catch in center field on April 18. Before his season could really begin–his first start–it was over. He would return to full strength and he proved it on that fateful day.

Bernadina had finally arrived. He was now more than a raw athlete with potential. In one day, he raised his batting average 51 points and solidified a spot as the everyday right fielder.

“He’s just scratching the surface of his ability level,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s come up here and has shown flashes of that everyday corner outfielder that he can be.”

Ian Desmond has never been short on hyperboles or stories but he has watched Bernadina develop since their days together in Savannah, Ga., with the Single-A Sand Gnats in 2005. He has some unforgettable memories of Bernadina making “unbelievable” catches and throws. Desmond knew he was capable of this and knew it was only time before everyone else witnessed his skills.

“I’ve just been telling everybody the whole time this guy is going to be really good,” Desmond said at the time. “Just watch. Let him play and watch. People are like, ‘Eh, we’ll see.'”

So can Roger Bernadina be any everyday player? The sample size grew a little bit–one full season in the Majors–but the verdict is still out. Succeeding in baseball is all about being consistent–anyone can be great for a day. At his best on June 28, Bernadina was hitting .291 (46-for-158) with five home runs, 23 RBI and a .354 OBP. In the beginning of the season, he only played when right-handed pitchers started but towards the end of the season he showed he can hit left-handed pitching, but began to struggle at the plate against lefties and righties. From August 13 until the end of the season, he batted .201 (32-for-159) with four home runs and 16 RBI.

“He’s scuffed results-wise,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “The game is not physically demanding on him. He’s just a physical specimen. He could be playing football. The guy is not going to be worn down physically. The grind is mental. He’s had some ups and downs. He’s had times where he’s really looked like he’s ready to go to the next level. Then he got in a little funk where he struggled. He’s passionate about it. He doesn’t say much, but he’s really upset with himself when he makes outs. He’s worked very hard.”

He really could be playing football. He looks like a wide receiver in a baseball uniform. There isn’t an ounce of fat on his body and if there is you are going to need a magnifying glass to find it. Josh Willingham and Ryan Zimmerman call him T.O.–short for the NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens who is famously known for doing sit-ups shirtless in his driveway in front of camera crews during a contract dispute in 2007. Bernadina is T.O. without the drama or baggage. He is reserved in the clubhouse and has a smile as bright as the Curacao sun. He chews gum like it is his second job–he has a piece in his back pocket at all times–and competes with Adam Dunn for the best bubble-blower on the team.

It took him seven years in the Minors and a broken ankle, but he finally got his chance to play in the Majors. It wasn’t easy but it has never been easy.

“He’s got power,” Adam Dunn said. “When he puts everything together, he’s going to be a special player. He’s a young kid, but he’s figuring it out.”

He is still a work in progress but if he figures it out he could be a staple in the Nats’ outfield.

“He’s a guy we’re trying to get as much information on as we can, because we’ve got to see about next year,” Riggleman said. “Do we anoint him as one of our three outfielders, or do we have to look further?”

Nyjer Morgan and the malice in Miami

Nats-Marlins benches clear.jpgIf you haven’t seen the fight yet,
you can see it here–we will nickname it the malice in Miami. Nyjer Morgan has never been shy of being the center of attention from his military-like salute in the outfield to his alter ego Tony Plush, but last night’s fight capped off an interesting week for the former hockey player–the type of publicity T. Plush isn’t searching for.

Morgan was suspended last Wednesday for seven games because of an incident with a fan in Philadelphia–he appealed the suspension thus being able to play. On Friday, he was picked off of first base in the bottom of the eighth. Willie Harris would hit a home run on the next pitch. On Saturday, he ran into/threw an elbow at the Cardinals’ catcher Bryan Anderson at home plate in the 8th inning despite the fact that there wasn’t even a play at the plate. Needless to say, Morgan missed home plate and cost the Nats a run. He was held out of Sunday’s game because of that play for what Manager Jim Riggleman referred to as an “unprofessional play.”

On Tuesday, in the top of the tenth inning with no score, Morgan plowed over catcher Brett Hayes on a close play at the plate. Morgan was called out. Could he have slid? Yes. Would he have been safe sliding? Maybe, but hindsight is 20-20. Morgan chose not to slide and opted to lower his shoulder to try to knock the ball loose. What would typically just be a footnote in a 1-0 loss became the main story. Collisions at home plate aren’t rare and by no means did this seem like a dirty hit but because of the incident on Saturday the collision on Tuesday was viewed as malicious by the Marlins. The Nats had no problem with the play. The Marlins had a different opinion.

It was expected that the Marlins would retaliate. Marlins pitcher Chris Volstad didn’t throw at Morgan when he led off the game but when Nyjer batted in the fourth with the Marlins leading 14-3, Volstad plunked him with a 92 mph fastball in the ribs. Morgan flipped his bat to the dugout, took off his elbow protector and ran to first base. That’s baseball–it’s a game that polices itself. What would have been a dead issue was quickly reignited when Morgan threw gas on the fire by stealing second base on the next pitch and third base two pitches later. Morgan was out to prove a point and the Marlins believed he was breaking one of the unspoken rules of baseball.

When Morgan returned to the plate in the sixth inning, the Marlins were determined to teach him a lesson. Volstad threw a 91 mph fastball behind Morgan and the rest is history. In a game, where your reputation often becomes the reality, it will be interesting to see what happens to Nyjer Morgan but here are some comments about last night’s event:

Nyjer Morgan in Miami.jpgMorgan on being hit once:

We police it. It was a hard play yesterday. I understand they had to get me back a little bit. It’s part of the game. I’m a hard player. I’m going out there and just playing the game. I guess they took it the wrong way. He hit me the first time, so be it. But he hit two other of our guys? All right, cool. But then he whips another one behind me, we got to go. I’m just sticking up for myself and just defending my teammates. I’m just going out there and doing what I have to do.”

Morgan on being thrown at the second time:

“That was garbage. That’s just bad baseball. It’s only the fourth inning. If they’re going to hold me on, I’m going to roll out. The circumstances were kind of out of whack, but the game was too early. It was only the fourth inning. If it happened again, I’d do it again. It’s one of those things where I’m a hard-nosed player. I’m grimey. And I just wanted to go out there and try to protect myself. I didn’t want to get outside the box. There’s a little bit of controversy surrounding the kid lately. But it’s just one of those things. I’m a solid, hard-nosed player. When I’m out there between the lines, I’m out there to win and I’m out there to play hard, and play hard for this organization.”

Jim Riggleman on Morgan stealing second and third:

“You know, my feeling has always been, if you hit somebody, then you did what you set out to do. You hit him, and now if he decides to run on you, that’s his business. I got no problem with that. We decide when we run. The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run. We will decide when we run. Nobody will decide when we run.”

Ryan Zimmerman:

“We knew he might hit him one time for I guess what they thought was a dirty play yesterday. I’ve known Brett [Hayes] since college. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt, I don’t think it was a dirty play yesterday. I wouldn’t say it was the cleanest play, but in baseball terms, that’s been done a million times and no one’s said anything. Nyjer doesn’t want to hurt anyone. No one wants to hurt anyone. I guess we thought they might hit him. They hit him once, and that’s fine. But to hit him twice, that was a little … I wouldn’t say that’s the right way to go about things. Even to hit him once is questionable. But to hit him twice? I don’t know.”

Third basemen Wes Helms:

“I cannot stand when a guy shows somebody up. There’s no place in baseball for that. You’re going to get what’s coming to you if you do that. Tonight, we had to show him that we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us after last night.”

“I can’t really say anything good about a guy that doesn’t play the game the right way and doesn’t play for the integrity of the game. I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get back at us. That’s the only reason we went after him the second time. If he wouldn’t have stole the bases, I think it would have been over with, but since he stole the bases it kind of pumped us up a little more.”