November 2009

Managerial candidates for Nationals

After they restructured their front office in mid-October, the Nationals went through a long process to find the right manager.

MLB.com has learned from a baseball source that the Nationals talked to at least six other candidates, including Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, Bo Porter, Tim Foli, Bob Melvin, Dave Duncan and Bobby Valentine.

The Nationals had asked the Dodgers for permission to talk to hitting coach Don Mattingly, but he took himself out of the running.

Of the other candidates, La Russa, Foli and Valentine were the most intriguing. According to the source, La Russa was honored to be considered, but told the Nationals he would retire if he didn’t manage the Cardinals.

Foli has managed in the Nationals’ Minor League system since 2005, working with prospects such as outfielder Roger Bernadina and shortstop Ian Desmond. The Nationals rewarded Foli this past season by making him an extra bench coach in September.

There is a strong possibility that Foli could be a big league coach for the team. If not, he is expected to be a Minor League adviser.

Valentine joined Riggleman as the finalist for the managerial job. Valentine’s tenure in Japan ended at the conclusion of the 2009 season, and he joined ESPN as an analyst with an out clause from that position if he’s able to procure a managerial job. Valentine, the former skipper of the Rangers and Mets, managed the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League for six seasons.

He led the Mets to a pennant in 2000 and had a .510 winning percentage (1,117-1,072) in 15 total seasons. For Chiba Lotte, Valentine also enjoyed wild success, winning the 2005 Japan Series, a first for the Marines in 31 years.

Valentine was informed that Riggleman will be the Nationals skipper on Wednesday.

 

Jim Riggleman named manager of Nationals

The Nationals have decided to name Jim Riggleman the permanent manager, according to a baseball source. The news comes five months after he was named the interim skipper, replacing Manny Acta.

A press conference is scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park.

Riggleman, who finished ahead of  Bobby Valentine in the managerial search, indicated on Monday that a decision would be made after the General Managers Meetings, which ended Wednesday.

“In talking to some people up in Washington, the feeling I’m getting is that there will be [something happening] between the General Managers’ Meetings and the Winter Meetings,” Riggleman said recently. “That leaves a big gap, but I think we will know something shortly after [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] gets back from Chicago. So I guess that would lead toward this week or early next week. I think we will have some type of decision made.”

Riggleman, who was not available for comment on Wednesday, took over as the manager after the All-Star break, and the Nationals played harder and mostly mistake-free baseball. The team went  33-42 under Riggleman.

Unlike past years in Nationals history, Riggleman is one skipper who held players accountable for mistakes they made on the field. Case in point: on July 24, Riggleman was not happy after a 6-2 loss to the Padres, frustrated with his players’ effort. It didn’t help that Washington made four errors and committed a passed ball in the outcome.  He reamed them out, and the Nats went on to win 12 out of their next 14 games.

Riggleman was even praised by general manager Mike Rizzo for the job that the skipper did during the second half of the season.

“Like I said in the past, we have a terrific in-house candidate in Jim Riggleman, who has as good a chance as anybody to becoming the manager for the Washington Nationals. The search is going to begin a little more seriously in the very near future,” Rizzo said recently.

Update on Strasburg

After missing his scheduled start because of a strained neck, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg is slated to make his next Arizona Fall League start on Saturday vs. the Peoria Saguaros.

 

Ryan Zimmerman wins Gold Glove

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made history on Wednesday, becoming the first person in Nationals history to win the Gold Glove.

Zimmerman led NL third basemen in assists, total chances, total outs recorded and games started. Almost every game it seemed like Zimmerman put on a show at the hot corner — whether it was making a diving play or charging a ball to throw out a runner.

Zimmerman has been great with the glove ever since he entered the Major Leagues in September, 2005, but didn’t receive a lot of recognition until this year. Why? Zimmerman said he learned to play the position a lot better.

“I know what I need to do  — when to throw the ball, when not to throw the ball. That’s something I had to learn,” he said. “I feel like anytime I touch the ball, I can get the person out. A lot of times in the past, I might go down the line, dive, backhand the ball and not have a shot at the runner.”

“I’ve learned to hold on to the ball. That’s obviously better for the team. You don’t want to try to throw it everywhere and you have a runner on second and all that. I think it’s more of an understanding of the game and learning the position a little bit more.”        

Nationals lose three more to Blue Jays

Bob Hamelin, Marteese Robinson and Brian Parker have decided to leave the Nationals and work for the Blue Jays. They will be reunited with former Nationals scouting director Dana Brown.

Parker was Washington’s director of baseball operations and was with the organization for seven seasons. Hamelin and Robinson were area scouts for the Nationals.

Hamelin acknowledged that he left the Nationals to be with Brown, who is currently a special assistant to Blue Jays general manager Alexander Anthopoulos.

“I have a good relationship with Dana and I enjoyed working with him in Washington,” Hamelin said. “That makes the transition easier. I’ll be doing some pro scouting. It’s more of a promotion type of thing.”              

 

Riggleman: Managerial decision coming soon

Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman doesn’t know if he’ll be at the helm on a permanent basis, but he indicated a decision will be made after the General Manager’s Meetings.

“In talking to some people up in Washington, the feeling I’m getting is that there will be [something happening] between the General Manager’s Meetings and the Winter Meetings,” Riggleman said. “That leaves a big gap, but I think we will know something shortly after [general manager] Mike [Rizzo] gets back from Chicago. So I guess that would lead toward  this week or early next week. I think we will have some type of decision made.”

The good part about the 2009 season was that the Nationals played better baseball under Riggleman, who guided them to a 33-42 record. Riggleman was even praised by Rizzo for the job that Riggleman did during the second half of the season.

Asked if he thought he would get the permanent position, Riggleman said,  “I think I have a good chance. The one thing is that we did everything we could do. I don’t think we left any stone unturned. I think we tried to address every issue, we tried to get the players to play hard and respond to what we were trying to do on the field. We felt like the players responded.

“The won-loss record leaves a lot to be desired. I feel we made some progress. I feel real good about how the players went about their business. I think people were getting after it toward the end. So regardless of what happens, I feel we did the job and you have to respect the process.”

The Nationals have kept the managerial search a secret. The only thing that is publically known is that Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly took himself out of the running. When reached by phone last week, Rizzo declined to discuss the managerial search.

There were published reports that Bobby Valentine, Bob Melvin and Tim Foli would be interviewed, but it’s not known that they ever met with Rizzo or team president Stan Kasten.

Strasburg honored by Arizona Fall League

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, was named the Arizona Fall Leagues’ Pitcher of the Week on Monday.

Strasburg, making his professional debut in the AFL, won his only start last week, posting a league-leading six strikeouts in five innings while allowing four hits and one earned run in his longest Fall League outing.

Strasburg, 21, shares the AFL lead with three wins and is tied for fourth with 17 strikeouts. He is 3-1 with a 5.28 ERA entering Monday’s action. Strasburg leads active Fall League starters in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.98.

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Knorr going to Double-A Harrisburg

After having conversations with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and interim manager Jim Riggleman, Randy Knorr has decided to become the manager of Double-A Harrisburg, replacing John Stearns.

Knorr spent last season as the team’s a bullpen coach, but Rizzo and Riggleman told him his future was as a manager.

Knorr said if he had to do it all over again he would have been more vocal when it came to the pitching staff and try his best to convince Josh Bard and Wil Nieves that catching was more important than hitting.       

“I love managing. It’s a new job. I want to be on the bench,” Knorr said.

Knorr has a history of success in the Minor Leagues. In 2008, for example, he guided Class-A Potomac to a 79-61 record en route to the Carolina League Championship.

The Nationals have not announced who will replace Knorr as the bullpen coach.

In other news, Rick Schu will replace Ralph Dickenson as the Nationals’ hitting coordinator. Best known as an infielder with the Phillies, Schu was a hitting coach with the Diamondbacks for almost two seasons.

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