Washington Nationals: Jim Riggleman vs Pitchers...Is There An Issue?

Washington Nationals' Skipper Jim Riggleman has apparently decided to openly confront his history of issues with pitchers this Spring, conducting several interviews recently in which he's discussed past managerial experiences in Chicago and Seattle, some of the regrets he was left with, and how they'll shape his approach to handling the twenty-ten Nats' staff. Since he ascended to the top spot on the bench last season, replacing Manny Acta as the Nationals' manager, Riggleman's been asked by DC writers about his handling of former Chicago Cubs' ace Kerry Wood, (who was drafted with a suspect elbow and forced to undergo Tommy John surgery within a year of his MLB debut in 1998), as they attempt to predict how Riggleman will handle '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg once he's brought up to the nation's capital. 

In Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's 2/22/10 article entitled, "Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman regrets Kerry Wood's workload in rookie season", Mr. Harlan noted that the then-21-year-old Wood, "...threw more than 120 pitches in a game," in nine of twenty-six starts during his rookie campaign, during which he pitched one complete game and threw a total 2,840 pitches over 166.2 IP in which he collected 233 K's (12.6 K/9). "I think if anything that I learned from it, having to do it over I probably would have pitched Kerry less," Riggleman told Mr. Harlan, continuing:

"At the time that we had Kerry, my recollection of any criticism I had was 'Why did you take him out of the game?' After the fact it's 'Well, you pitched him too much.' "

Kerry Wood responded to Mr. Riggleman's comments...

Kerry Wood responded to Mr. Riggleman's comments in a ChicagoNow.com Kap's Corner blog post by Comcast SportsNet's "Chicago Tribune Live" and WGN Radio's "Sports Central" host David Kaplan entitled, "Kerry Wood Says Riggleman Did Not Misuse Him", in which Mr. Kaplan writes that he called Wood to ask his opinion of his former Manager's comments. Mr. Wood's response:

"'Wow, I hadn't heard his comments and I really don't agree with that. Look, I had bad mechanics back then and it was very hard for me to try to correct them when what I was doing was working. I remember many times thinking that I wish Jim would leave me in the game because I still felt strong."

In an article by Seattle Times' sports writer Larry Stone entitled, "Checking in with Jim Riggleman and John McLaren", which examines the repairing of the former Mariners' skipper and bench coach in reversed roles in DC two years after Riggleman replaced McLaren on the bench in Seattle, Mr. Riggleman says he has regrets about his time as the Mariners' interim manager which he had hoped to correct (had he been given the full-time gig) that were left unaddressed when he was passed over for the job. Mr. Riggleman explains to the Seattle Times' writer that in hindsight it was relationship issues with his pitchers and how he handled them that caused him the most concern:

"Riggleman said a big area of contention was what he termed 'coming out of the game issues -- when I take you out of the game. They weren't on board with me on some of those decisions, a lot of those decisions. Taking them out early is generally what it is. They want to stay in the game, and I want them to want to stay in the game. It's hard to put it into words, but it was almost like they didn't trust me, and that's a bad feeling. I've never felt that anywhere that I've been. I hope I don't feel it again, because your starting pitchers are your most important thing. As a manager, if you feel like you've lost that connection...as bad as that season was, I didn't want it to end. I felt, I'm going to get it right. I'm going to reach these guys. I felt I had to find a different way to reach them, and I was hoping to do it the next season. New start, mend some fences. But it didn't happen."'

If Mr. Riggleman has any regrets from his time as the Nationals' interim manager last year, he's getting the chance to address them this season, and he'll have a second shot at handling a can't-miss-pitching-prospect twelve years after his first experiences with Wood in Chicago. How much of what happens with Stephen Strasburg this season will be in Riggleman's hands? Will DC GM Mike Rizzo oversee a "Joba Rules"-like plan to control Strasburg's development? What influence will veteran backstop Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez have on the Nationals' potential future ace? Riggleman will also have Davey Johnson, who managed Dwight Gooden early in his career in New York, to call upon for advice about handling Strasburg, who Riggleman described as being, "off-the-charts-good" during his second bullpen session this Spring in an recent article by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell entitled, "Nats' Rodriguez terms Strasburg 'amazing'.

It's going to be a season of second chances for Jim Riggleman in the nation's capital in 2010.

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