Good morning, Nats fans. Hope you’re enjoying your holiday. I caught up with Nationals manager Jim Riggleman a few minutes ago to discuss a number of the topics you’ve been asking about in the last few days. Here’s a transcript of my interview with him, interrupted only by his coffee-and-breakfast order at a fast-food place:
Q: You guys have had a chance to add a few pieces to the team so far. How are you feeling about the offseason as a whole?
A: I feel real good, I think. I’m really proud of our guys the way they competed last year under some tough circumstances. That was great. I’m appreciative of the efforts those players gave. Many of them are back with us, and the additions we made give us an opportunity to move forward. We’re a little more solid in a few areas. Every addition (general manager) Mike (Rizzo) has made to the ballclub could end up being a real plus. It’s easy to say at this point, but we addressed what our needs were, and Mike has addressed those needs down to the final one. I know he’s still looking to add some things to the club, but we identified three major needs: catching, starting pitching and the bullpen. He did all three of those things. As a manager, I can’t be anything but happy.
Q: With the bullpen, you’ve added some guys who have experience closing - (Matt) Capps, (Brian) Bruney and (Eddie) Guardado. Does one of them go into camp with an edge on the closer’s job, or is it an open competition there?
A: It’s a little bit of both. If there was a game tomorrow and we had the lead in the 9th inning and the previous pitcher was done for the day, I’d probably have confidence we could go a few different ways. I’d probably start with Capps and go from there. I think it’s really a good situation to have a few guys that are comfortable pitching in the 9th inning. There are times you’re facing a ballclub such as the Phillies, where they’ve got a strong left-handed lineup, that it might be (Sean) Burnett or Guardado, and then maybe you give it to Capps or Bruney or whoever’s freshest. I’m not going to be too caught up in that. All I want is to make sure we get the outs.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about the middle infield situation, particularly about you guys adding another piece at second base. Are you happy with what you’ve got there going into spring training?
A: I’m happy with (Cristian) Guzman and (Ian) Desmond, with (Alberto) Gonzalez’s ability to play both sides. If Mike adds another piece there, that will be welcome. If Mike adds another player, I think it will be someone he feels an upgrade for us defensively. That was issue for us in general last year, and I certainly understand trying to add somebody. If it’s not conducive to what we’re trying to do there payroll-wise, if we had to trade a piece of our ballclub that we didn’t want to part with, I’m probably happier staying with what we have.
Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Guzman much lately about the possibility of switching to second base?
A: No, those discussions took place in September. Any follow-up I’ve had has been physical, medical, with regard to his recovery from his (shoulder) surgery. We were not able to do anything with him to get him acclimated to second base in September or October. It would all just be talk at this point anyway. We just want to get on the field and work. Cristian is aware it could go either way. He could be our second baseman, or he could be our shortstop, and he’ll help us no matter which way it is. (Changing positions) could be a necessity, if there are any physical limitations due to his arm, but we don’t think there are going to be. One thing I’d like to add - a point that was mentioned recently, and I think it’s a good one - Cristian had some issues going on with bunions. To Cristian’s credit, he never really said anything about it. He just played through it. It was brought to my attention late in the season that he was really sore, that he could use a day or two off based on these bunions. I just felt like at that point, ‘Yeah, that would hurt (to play with those).’ I did not make the connection that maybe this has been something that’s going on all year that has affected his range. That’s something we’ve got to look at, too, that whatever treatment he’s had may allow him to be more comfortable. I admire him for playing through what could be a painful situation.
Q: He seems like a guy who isn’t going to say anything about an injury until it gets to a point where he can’t play anymore. Is that how he typically handles it?
A: Definitely. I think we’ve got a lot of guys like that. Late in the season, you realize Adam Dunn was playing with some tenderness in his hand or wrist, (Ryan) Zimmerman played through a lot of nagging aches and pains. But they felt an obligation to do it, and you’ve got to admire it.
Q: With Dunn, is there anything he’s doing now to get ready to play first base every day, or does that have to wait until you get to Viera?
A: I’ve talked to Adam a couple times. He’s going through his offseason conditioning, working hard. Anything we do with Adam in terms of his work will be in the flow of spring training. Spring training is long, and we’ve got plenty of time to get the work in. He’ll get plenty. He made a lot of strides at first last year.
Q: Elijah Dukes - it’s obviously been a difficult offseason for him with the death of his father. How is he handling that, and how’s he feeling physically?
A: I’ve talked to Elijah a couple times. That’s a tough blow. I think the best thing for Elijah is to get going in spring training and be occupied in that right with the game. The offseason has been a lot of turmoil there. Physically, he’s feeling very well. That’s big. He’s a big strong guy, and we need to put him out there everyday. How the death of his father will affect him on the field, only time will tell.
Q: He goes in as the guy in right field, based on what you’ve got -
Q: Do you think he’s ready to put together a full season? We haven’t seen that from him yet because of the injuries.
A: I don’t think there’s any reason he can’t, but again, that’s all talk at this point. (Hitting coach) Rick Eckstein continued to work with him and make progress at the plate. He did some pretty good things. Any player who’s his age, they’re working toward the prime of their career, age-wise. He’s going to be hitting his stride.
Q: This is your first chance to run a camp as a manager in quite a while, and put it together the way you want it to look. What kinds of things will you stress once you get there?
A: It’s going to be pretty much like any other camp. We’re not going to reinvent the game. It will be full of everything the other clubs do: Basics, fundamentals, batting practice, ground balls, first-and-third defense. You try to stress the attention to detail, teach everything as if nobody knows anything and give the players the respect of being good baseball people. We hope to make this group a team. We go in as a group and hope to end spring training as a team. It’s a lot of basics, not a lot different from any other club.
Q: You spent a lot of time drilling fundamentals with early work when you took over as the interim manager last season. Do you see this camp as an extension of that?
A: Yeah, we’ll try to continue that. I don’t want to overstress or continue to repeat the point too much, but the situation last year, we really wanted to be doing that all along. I became the manager, but when I was a coach (under Manny Acta), we wanted to be doing a lot of that work all along. It was kind of a strange year weather-wise. We wanted to do it, but field was so wet so many days. And then the weather would get good, but we’d be on the road, where you can’t get that defensive work early. It wasn’t any particular brainchild of mine. It was stuff we knew we needed to do, thing that you have to weigh into it is, it was a change that was going to happen anyway. I happened to be the manager, and as I institute that pregame work, make the change in our schedule, some people are going to be saying, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Players have to buy into it. They’ve got to trust you that this is needed. To their credit, they did buy in. They did the work, and got better.