VIERA, Fla. - Nationals manager Jim Riggleman held his introductory press conference with reporters early this afternoon, discussing how he thinks the 2011 team looks at the start of spring training. He got a handful of questions about how the Nationals' lineup, rotation and bullpen would look if the season started now, which are mostly useful at this point to establish a baseline for the season and indicate how the Nationals' braintrust would prefer things to go.
So take this with a grain of salt, but if the season started today:
* Livan Hernandez would be the opening day starter. Riggleman said he feels Hernandez has earned the job, and has proven in the past he's capable of handling the pressure of pitching opening day. John Lannan, who's gotten the start the last two years, has been hit around both times, so the Nationals might feel Hernandez brings them a steadier presence there. He's pitched seven times on opening day, including twice for the Nationals. But Hernandez, who will be 36 next week, also just had a better year than Lannan in 2010. "He had a good year, but he's also a composed veteran guy," Riggleman said. "The whole atmosphere of opening day and the excitement and all that, he's able to slow the game down and not be overwhelmed by it."
* Nyjer Morgan would lead off, and Ian Desmond would hit second. The Nationals still see Morgan as the most obvious choice to lead off; Riggleman said he'd be happy if Morgan can post an on-base percentage near .350 (his career average is .344). Desmond hit .326 in 46 games in the No. 2 hole last year, though Riggleman said the team will take part of the spring to figure that out. But whoever hits first and second has to get on base more often than last year. "Ryan Zimmerman's been such a consistent guy for us," Riggleman said. "It's a little deflating when he comes up to the plate and there's not some action going on in front of him."
* Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett would be in the bullpen, and the closer's job would be open. The Nationals have an especially crowded bullpen this spring, with Henry Rodriguez and Todd Coffey among the new additions to a group that had the fifth-best ERA in the game last year. Washington had an especially hard time evaluating relievers last year, as most of the team's bullpen options struggled through a windy spring in Viera; Matt Capps, for example, was awful in the spring before making the All-Star team in the regular season. But Riggleman said the Nationals will do their best to evaluate pitchers, knowing that the "Burnetts and Clippards of the world" have guaranteed themselves spots based on past performance. As far as the closer's role, there's no big mystery here: The Nationals want Drew Storen to grow into that role, but they're not ready to anoint him yet. "As I sit here right now, I really don't have a situation where I'm saying, 'This has to be our closer,'" Riggleman said. "Eventually, Storen would be the guy we want to do that, but if that doesn't happen by March 31, we're not going to force that to happen."
Take that for what it's worth on Feb. 15. But it's at least an idea of where the Nationals stand at the moment.
I'll have more this afternoon, including a couple video clips of Riggleman's first presser.