Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman been doing a lot of interviews recently, and he visited ESPN Radio's The Scott Van Pelt Show late this afternoon to discuss what's going on with the Washington Nationals. Mr. Van Pelt began with a question that's been asked of just about every Nationals' official who's done any press this winter:
Scott Van Pelt: "Jim, I know 59-103 doesn't jump off the page at you, but you guys added some nice pieces, you got some good arms, and a nice young arm we'll talk about in a minute, is there legitimate cause for optimism in your camp?"
Jim Riggleman: Yeah, I think so, Scott. I feel that there was some good things that did happen here, you know that's hard to say with the number of losses we had, but we did have some real good performances. A couple guys hit over 30 homers, we got a legitimate leadoff hitter in Nyjer Morgan, who's a great defender, and we've got some nice pieces, but we also added some pieces, we didn't really lose productive parts of our lineup, we added a couple people who we think can be productive in this lineup, and we're inching closer to be(ing) a much more respectable ballclub."
Scott Van Pelt: "What's the most important thing to do on a club to change culture? We hear so much about it, what has to happen to give a club the belief that day in and day out they can compete for victories?
Jim Riggleman: "Well, I guess, I don't know that I can say that one thing is more important than others, you know, when you're trying to change the culture of the club, probably two things have to happen, you need talent and you need high character people and I think that Mike Rizzo has added a lot of talent and kept high character people that were here and added more new high character people, so that can only be a good thing and I think we're going to reap the benefits of that..."
Scott Van Pelt: "Last year you had 12 different guys start a game for you out of this pitching staff, what are your expectations of what you were able to put together? I actually see a lot of arms that I like out of this group...
Jim Riggleman: "I think that all clubs are probably saying this right now, 'If, if, if,' but we do feel that if we can keep this core group healthy it's a nice group. The top two guys there, [John] Lannan and [Jason] Marquis are both guys who have thrown 200 innings in the last couple years in their seasons, and a key part will be Scott Olsen, if he's able to get back to where he was a couple years ago throwing 200 innings for the Marlins, you know, he went through an operation and he appears to be back a hundred percent. Garrett Mock's got a real nice arm, we added [Miguel] Batista, Livan Hernandez, a lot of guys who have gone deep into ballgames, and we're not kidding ourselves, we're not saying that these guys at this point in their career that they are All-Stars, meaning Hernandez and Batista, but they do have a history of going deep into ballgames and taking a little stress of your bullpen which was a problem last year, we really put a lot of unwarranted innings on our bullpen."
Scott Van Pelt: "And the ironic thing is the face of the franchise and the superstar is a guy that's never thrown an inning in Stephen Strasburg, not at the major league level. What's the timetable for him this year?
Jim Riggleman: "We're just going to have to see where it goes, he'll have a lot to say about it with his performances but, we've got to really analyze what we want to do with his development and I think the most likely scenario is that he'll start in the minor leagues, and we'll work off of that, get him some starts, whether it's Double-A or whatever, get him some starts, see how he progresses, get him a few starts at the next level, and then get him here when he's ready, you know, hopefully it's sooner than later, but we don't want to bring him here before he's ready. If it's just undeniable that he is...it's just so clear cut that he's ready and he needs to be here on Opening Day, then we'll reconsider, but right now we're thinking more start in the minor leagues..."
Scott Van Pelt: "You were critical of your own handling of Kerry Wood when you told the Washington Post that you learned from that. Kerry Wood told, I believe it was the Chicago Tribune, that he disagreed with that, he said, 'I had bad mechanics and when you'd come out to get him he wanted to stay in the game cause he was strong.' Having had that experience with Wood, and you say you learned from it, is it hard to still fight the urge when you see the kind of dazzling stuff that this kid [Strasburg] supposedly has?
Jim Riggleman: "Well, it won't be this time because we will have hard and fast rules on how much we pitch him, you know, even if he's in the minor leagues all year, there's going to be limits to how many innings total we let him get...The situation with Kerry? You know, I love that guy and I feel terrible about what happened with him and I feel I was part of it, I was responsible for the ballclub, so you know, when any of your pitchers get hurt you feel terrible about it and I feel terrible about that, and he's just such a man, he's a standup guy, that he's not putting it on me or anybody else, but you know, one of the things that happened is we threw him in a situation where we were in a pennant race and we had a chance to win and he was dominant and we let him pitch and next thing you know, the next year he breaks down and it was ligament damage that, who knows, maybe it was going to happen anyway, but if we took the more conservative route it would be a little easier for me to look in the mirror about it than it is when you're just pitching to win and then he breaks down, you can't help but feel somewhat responsible..."
Scott Van Pelt: What's a successful season for the Nationals this year?"
Jim Riggleman: "You know, I can't put a number on it. Like any club that I managed, I want to be able to look back when it's over and say we got every win possible that could be gotten out of that ballclub. Which, if that happens, that means, as the Manager and coaching staff, your guys played hard for you, they were on board with what you were doing, they became good teammates to each other and you just maximized every thing that you could out of that ballclub. The things that are out of your control that affect that "in number", are trades and injuries and who knows, some tremendous performances by the opposition, so you know, they have something to say about your success also, so we just want to feel like we got everything we could out of the ballclub and that we're moving in the right direction and we feel like we started that last year."