The Nationals have announced that Jim Riggleman will return as manager for the team in 2011 for his third year as skipper of the club. In 2010, the Nationals improved by 10 victories over their 2009 campaign, from 59 to 69 wins.
Riggleman was very pleased with the announcement, saying "Mike (Rizzo) and I talked some during September, and I was given every indication that" the team would pick up the option. "It is a good thing and I am excited to get going."
Riggleman originally signed a one-year deal with two options, and this announcement is the Nationals picking up that first option.
Riggleman says the bullpen and the team's infield defense have improved to become strengths that are good signs for 2011.
"I feel good about our infield. Even though our statistics don't completely show it on defense, I feel our defense is a strength with Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, and then behind the plate, Wilson Ramos and Pudge Rodriguez.
"With an infield like this we have a chance to play cleaner baseball from the beginning of the season to the end. We had a bad streak in 2010, but if we can clean that up we have the potential to be a really good defensive ballclub."
With Texas and San Francisco in the World Series, and potentially better offensive teams like the N.Y. Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies home for holidays, Riggleman sees it as a possible trend that the era of shutdown pitching is gaining strength.
"This may be a sign that the post-steroid era where pitching is more developed has started to take over the game," Riggleman said.
"You watch the Giants win the pennant with guys like Cody Ross and Pat Burrell, who didn't necessarily have big seasons offensively, but did get clutch hits in a low scoring NLCS."
Riggleman believes the Nationals can build their pitching for 2011, whether it is a starter or another quality arm in the bullpen, and get better.
"When you have pitching and you catch the ball, you have a chance to win every night," Riggleman said. "We have a good defense, solid infield and catchers, and a good bullpen.
"Either we can get stronger in the starting rotation or wait until Stephen Strasburg is healthy. We could also go another route and strengthen the bullpen even further."
Looking for a reliever this offseason may be an interesting option because the free agent class for 2012 for starters looks to be very strong. That way, you could have a healthy Strasburg to go with Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan and a top free agent.
Riggleman says they could add another arm to the bullpen and go with one less position player, if necessary, and get better.
As for 2011, Riggleman says Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya will be better, while Lannan and Zimmermann appear to be coming on.
"Marquis was much better later in the season and Maya didn't get a chance to go a full year. Lannan pitched good and Zimmermann showed some flashes. There were some positives in the rotation."