Welcome to this week’s edition of National Matters with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
With the Nationals off to a 3-4 start in their first seven games, Rizzo got together with Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling before Wednesday’s game to discuss what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong and where he sees differences from the team’s 0-7 start a year ago:
BG: A week in, what are your impressions so far, and how are you feeling about things?
Mike Rizzo: I don’t think we’ve played very good baseball right now, and we’ve won some games, so I’m happy with that. I expect us to play much better than we’ve been playing. I believe we have a different attitude this year. I do believe a couple of the games we won this year, we probably didn’t win last year. I’m happy with the way we’re playing cleaner games, better defense, so I’m good with that. We certainly need to improve our starting pitching. They need to go deeper into games, to give us a better chance to win those games. I did see some improvements the second time around with most of them. We’ve won three out of seven games and we’ve done nothing offensively. So I’m happy with that, because I know we’re going to be better than we are.
BG: Is there any concern offensively, about those guys getting going?
Mike Rizzo: No. Not at all. Dunn’s going to be Dunn, and Zimmerman’s going to be Zimmerman, Willingham’s going to be Willingham.
Nyjer’s going to be Nyjer. Adam Kennedy was a .286 hitter last year. He’s probably hitting into the toughest luck out of all of them. Speaking of him, I’m really happy with what he brings to the ballclub. I think we’re going to get Guzman his at-bats. We’re not going to lose any production out in right field. I’m not concerned about the offense. I go on track record, and what else can you go by? These guys have been consistent run-producers, and that’s what they’re going to be at the end.
BG: In the games you’ve won, do you start to see the seeds of what you want this team to be?
Mike Rizzo: Just remnants of it. I do see the influence of Jim Riggleman, the real focus on fundamentals. You see it. You’re here every day. We’re always working cutoffs and relays, we’re always working infield practice. We do a lot of basic, fundamental stuff, much more than any team that we see. I think it’s starting to pay off. I see the leadership quality of Pudge and the steady influence of Kennedy really rubbing off on (Ian) Desmond. I think that all works into where we’re at right now. It’s not where we want to be. We need to play better baseball. We need to start pitching better than we are.
BG: With Jason Marquis, you saw it for a few innings the other day where he was starting to get things going. Is he where you want him to be with the way he’s throwing the ball?
Mike Rizzo: I don’t think he’s satisfied with the way he’s throwing the ball.
He’s not where I want him to be. But you know what? The guy takes the ball. He’s a professional. He takes the ball every fifth day. He’s going to work his way through the slow start. His track record has been what it has been, and I expect him to be there at the end of the day.
BG: Have there been certain plays that stick out to you where you say, ‘OK, I can see the difference already?’”
Mike Rizzo: I see routine ground balls being routine outs. I see routine fly balls being outs. I see guys running the bases much smarter, much crisper. I see us hitting the cutoff men. I see us throwing to the right bases. I see us keeping the double play in order more often. These are things that, to the typical fan, don’t stick out. But to help you win games, it’s really important. I see us hit better in situations. We’re scoring runs without getting a hit, which is something we struggled to do last year. I think there are a lot of good signs, but again, I’m certainly not satisfied with where we’re at. I think we should have at least two more wins, maybe three.
BG: Do you figure every game, besides Opening Day, you could’ve won?
Mike Rizzo: There was a point in those games, with a big inning pitched or a big hit, the score could have been different. But that’s why you play 162 games. I realize that. There’s nobody on this field that’s satisfied we’re 3-4.
BG: With the pitching staff, is there a common theme you can put your finger on (for the struggles)?
Mike Rizzo: Yes. Throwing more strikes is the common theme. Never having been a pitcher, it’s easy for me to say, throw the ball over the plate. And the common response to me is, what, you think I’m not trying to throw it over the plate? It’s not as easy as it looks, but they are major league pitchers, so we expect them to do that. We expect them to perform well. It’s something we’re not going to let up on - we’re going to keep pounding it to throw strikes, be aggressive, get ahead of hitters. And as the season progresses, getting into the second and third times through the rotation, I think they’re going to get better at it.