WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: Manager Bruce Bochy #15 of the San Francisco Giants talks with Manager Jim Riggleman #5 of the Washington Nationals before the game at Nationals Park on May 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman is getting votes of confidence from around the baseball world. Bruce Bochy, Giants' Manager and Skipper for the NL All-Stars as a result of San Francisco's 2010 NL Championship win, selected the Nationals' manager as a bench coach for the 2011 edition of the mid-summer classic. In the latest "Full Count" video, bow-tied FOXSports.com reporter Ken Rosenthal noted that Riggleman is one of the few managers league-wide whose future is uncertain contractually speaking and quoted "scouts, executives and other coaches" who said that under Riggleman, "...the Nationals are on the right track." Rosenthal quotes Riggleman's agent Burton Rocks as well, who says, "he is hopeful that the Nats will either exercise the option or sign Riggleman to a multi-year deal by Father's Day."
This morning, SI.com's Jon Heyman, in the "Around the Majors" section an article entitled, "Six teams that could be in need of a trade for Mets' Reyes", wrote that the Nats, "...ought to consider locking up manager Jim Riggleman," since, "Washington has stayed afloat without its best pitcher (Stephen Strasburg) or best position player (Ryan Zimmerman)," in the lineup this season. The three-game sweep at the hands of the Nationals' NL East rivals in Philadelphia may have dropped Washington three games under .500, but the Nationals have "stayed afloat" in spite of the fact that they've got the NL's second-worst team AVG and OBP and third-worst SLG after 31 games. That's Riggleman's concern, not his contract.
The Manager and his Hitting Coach, Rick Eckstein, addressed the offense in a meeting with the team's hitters before Roy Halladay struck ten of them out last night, six of them looking. Not the best timing, as Riggleman admitted in post game talks with the media. In an interview this morning on MLB Network Radio's First Pitch with Rob Dibble and Jeff Joyce, the Nats' Skipper said that they wanted to place, "a little more emphasis on 'see it and hit it,' try to relax them a little bit [and] not get too caught up in too many mechanical things and too much video and that type of stuff."
"We want to utilize every tool that we have," Riggleman continued, but, "The point of the message was, I realize how tough hitting is, and as long as you're doing the other things, playing the game hard, playing the game with passion and intensity and attention to detail, we'll come out of this hitting thing, but in the mean time, we've still got to win games, we still have to play the game right and try to scratch out wins whether we're hitting or not."
Asked about the offense, and in particular about Ian Desmond swinging (or "hacking" as Mr. Joyce said) at the first pitch and connecting on a sac fly to center in the at bat after Jerry Hairston's epic 13-pitch showdown with Roy "Doc" Halladay loaded the bases with the Nats then down 6-1 in the fourth inning of last night's game, Riggleman said, "I didn't have any problem with it. I can't even remember exactly on Jerry's thirteen pitch at bat, he may have swung at the first pitch too, I don't know," (ed. note - "He did."), "but Desi is trying to get a fastball and hit it and he probably got something out there over the plate that he thought he could drive and so I didn't really have any thoughts on that."
"We did get a great at bat by Jerry, that was huge," Riggleman said, "and that set us up to maybe get a little extra, and we got the sac fly, to get anything off Halladay is something, but when we were down as much as we were, we were certainly hoping for a gapper there." The Nats couldn't come back and were eventually swept by the Phillies. Up next, it's Florida, the second-place team in the NL East at the moment.
"Great pitching," Riggleman said in discussing the Marlins, "they're unbelievable, they're winning ball games and they missed [Mike] Stanton a lot and Hanley Ramirez has not got on track and so there's just a lot of talent in the division and we've got to raise our level of play to play with those guys. We're making strides toward it, we compete well with them, but we have not been able to get over the hump and that's my job and the coaches job to get us over that hump and believe me we're doing everything we can to get it done."
The Nationals have survived thus far on the strength of their starting pitching, which the Nationals' Skipper says in the interview is improved over the previous rotations he's worked with in the nation's capital, and the streak of 30-straight starts of 5.0 innings or more, which ended last night when the Phillies knocked Lannan out in the third, "...is just a testament to the progress that this pitching staff has made. This pitching staff last year, I had somebody up in the bullpen in the third, fourth inning routinely and that really wears on your staff and this year, to this point in the season, our starters have really given our bullpen a break."
The Nationals' relievers are tied with two other NL teams, the Marlins and Dodgers, for third lowest IP total by a team's bullpen this season, and the starters have the fifth highest innings pitched total in the National League. And as Mr. Heyman pointed out, that's without Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation as he was expected to be before last year's elbow injury and surgery. Can the Riggleman-guided Nats get the offense on track while Ryan Zimmerman recovers, young players Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond develop and Adam LaRoche, Rick Ankiel, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth work through their struggles at the plate? What will the Nats' Front Office have to see from the team they assembled before they decide if Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman's the man to guide them for at least another year?