I had a chance to speak with Nationals manager Jim Riggleman as spring training 2010 gets underway today. We went over several of the important issues the Nats have solved and that they face as they embark on Jim's first full year as the Nats skipper.
On the signing of Adam Kennedy at second base:
"At this point, Mike has really addressed every issue we talked about since August with Adam Kennedy being one of those guys. We felt we needed add another infielder. It's a perfect match, a professional hitter and a mistake-free-type player who is solid in all areas of the game."
Where does that leave Ian Desmond?
"Ian's fate somewhat depends on Cristian Guzman's health. If Guzman is at the top of his game physically then Cristian will play shortstop. If he is not healthy enough, Desmond can slide in there.
"Philosophically the organization will make a decision about what is best for Ian. Is it best for him to go to Triple A and play, or stay with us? If he stays with us, it would be because of his versatility on the field, knowing we can get him a lot of action.
"If we can't get him playing time than we would not do that. Playing outfield and infield positions and knowing he can give Guzmman and Kennedy days off is another way he could stick with the big club. We need to make a determination on the status of Guzman before anything else happens."
Do you think depth in the bullpen has greatly improved?
"It is all talk right now because it is all on paper. It appears we have a lot of good arms there. We have a couple of guys that have been effective versus left-handed hitters. It is a good group. They are going to be given the challenge to get some huge outs for us. Mike Rizzo has done his part acquiring the talent. Now it is up to Steve McCatty, me and the coaching staff to use them the right way."
Your plan for spring training?
"It doesn't change from when I managed before. My hope will be that we work hard enough that nobody in baseball is out-working us. We will start from ground zero with everything we do: whether it's fielding ground balls to bunt defenses, what everyone does on the field we will work on. I think the key phrase is "attention to detail." We will stress that from our coaches starting with myself. The players will have to understand the importance of details. It is a big part of the game. But I know the ultimate barometer is can you hit and pitch. If you hit and pitch and still lose games, then something has to happen. We can control the details of the game, the things that can lose you ballgames."
What about looking to improve defense after all the errors last year?
"We can't dwell on the defense from last year. We know we are better than that. We will continue to build on the way we played in the second half of the season and move forward. Some players are not even the same on the roster from last year. For all intents and purposes we are pretty much all new at second baseman to catcher to a healthy center fielder. With a healthier Cristian Guzman and Nyjer Morgan out there consistently, that in itself should help us."
So are you optimistic about the Nats in 2010?
"I feel real good about the ball club. I feel good moving forward. I feel good about the addition of Jason Marquis and a healthy Scott Olsen for the starting pitching staff. I have high hopes for Garrett Mock and Chien-Ming Wang to help us. With Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen available down the road, we have talent in the organization and that is something to feel good about."
What about the NL East competition?
"Atlanta is always pitching rich; Philadelphia has been to the World Series the last two years; the Mets and Marlins are always very good. There is great talent in the East. But you want that. You want the challenge. That's the point. It's the highest level of baseball that you can play at. We have to push from day one. We will not look down the road. We have some great fans here to support us and have stood by us through the 100 loss seasons. We have to push our players to not wait for the future."