October 2010

Listach has interview with Brewers

Nationals third-base coach Pat Listach met for two hours with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash on Tuesday about Milwaukee’s vacant managerial position. 

Listach said the interview went well and the trio talked about everything from the Major League roster to player development.

“It’s was tremendous,” Listach said by phone. “The interview was well planned. They asked the right questions. It was very detailed.”  

Listach has a history with the Brewers. He was drafted by the Brewers in the fifth round of the 1988 First-Year Player Draft. He would go on to play five Major League seasons with the Brewers. His best year was in 1992, when he hit .290 with one home run, 47 RBIs, 54 stolen bases and 93 runs scored. He would win American League Rookie of the Year honors for that great season. 

Listach has managerial experience. Listach managed in the Cubs’ Minor League system for four seasons, going 253-221. His best season was in 2008, when he guided Triple-A Iowa to an 83-59 record, and he is still respected by the organization.

Kasten happy Rizzo received extension

Former Nationals president Stan Kasten was happy to learn that the club promoted general manager Mike Rizzo to executive vice president of baseball operations and gave him a five-year extension. 

The Nationals started talking to Rizzo about an extension after Kasten resigned from his role as president of the club.

When reached by phone, Kasten said the Nationals giving Rizzo the extension is an important demonstration of stability for the franchise.

“It’s something every successful franchise needs,” Kasten said via telephone. “It a great step for the franchise and also a great indication to the fans about how serious the organization is about building long-term success.” 

It was Kasten who lured Rizzo away from the D-Backs in 2006 to become the Nationals’ director of scouting. For the next two-plus seasons, Kasten groomed Rizzo for his future role.

Rizzo would be named interim GM in March of 2009 and received full-time status a few months later.         
“Mike has a real gift for examining players and being able to tell which players are going to be successful and the ones who are not. It’s not a perfect science, obviously,” Kasten said.  “It was very clear he wanted to be a GM. He was preparing for it while he was a scouting director — learning everything he could.

“He asked good questions to the best people in the business, With addition to having all the skills to being a scout, he also did other things that he could to become a GM.”

Since becoming the GM, the Nationals are loaded with young pitchers — including 2009 No. 1 overall Draft pick Stephen Strasburg, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery — who are expected to make an impact in the big leagues very soon.

The team also has its share of sluggers in the system including Bryce Harper who is expected to be in the big leagues in two years.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen, I think, all of the good things that Mike has been able to do. And I think you could look forward to even more of that now and going forward,” Kasten said.            

Q&A with Austin Kearns

Outfielder Austin Kearns never played on a winning big-league team until the Indians traded him to the Yankees last July. Kearns, a reserve for New York, is a series away from going to the World Series. 

MLB.com caught up with Kearns before the start of the American League Championship Series to talk about his time with the Yankees, Indians and Nationals.         
MLB.com: What was your reaction when the Indians traded you to the Yankees?

Austin Kearns: I was excited, obviously. I wasn’t expecting anything. You get a chance to play in the postseason for a World Series [ring]. That’s what it is all about.     

MLB.com: Is playing for the Yankees what you expected?

Kearns: It has been pretty much what I expected. There are a lot of good people and workers. They take care of their business. They have fun, but they come and get their work done. It has been fun to be here.        

MLB.com: Before the trade, you were never on a winning team in the big leagues. What adjustments did you have to make when you became a member of the Yankees?  

Kearns: … You come here and you are expected to win, so that is the mindset that you have. You go out there and you expect for good things to happen.     

MLB.com: You got off to a great start for the Yankees and you tailed off a little bit toward the end. What happened?    

Kearns: It’s part of the game. I scuffled a little bit. I’m banged up a little bit. It’s part of it.

MLB.com:  What are you expecting the rest of the way against Texas?

Kearns: It’s going to be a dog fight, no matter who you play from here on out. Texas is a good ballclub. They played well [this season]. So I’m expecting some good baseball. 

MLB.com: With you on a winning team, do you think about what Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are going through with the Nationals?

Kearns: I know how much those guys want to win and how much they deserve to get that chance. I’m sure they will be part of a winner sooner rather than later. Those guys have put in the work. They definitely deserve to a shot to be in the postseason.      

MLB.com: Overall, you had a your best season since 2006. What was the difference between this year and the previous three years with the Nationals. 

Kearns: Health was a big part of it. The guys in Cleveland did a good job keeping out there on the field. I had a lot of problems with my hand — my thumb. So they helped me out with a pad to wear. I’ve went through a million things to try to help the thump. So they finally found something that works. That definitely helped. I think that is the biggest thing.        

MLB.com: What does the future holds for Austin Kearns?

Kearns: I want to play and hopefully get a chance to be on a team where you get another chance to be in the postseason. We’ll see where it goes.  

MLB.com: Do you want to stay with the Yankees?

Kearns: I would love to stay. It doesn’t get any better than playing with these guys.    

Q&A with Nats manager Jim Riggleman

In his first full season as manager of the Nationals, Jim Riggleman guided the team to a 69-93 record, a 10-game improvement from last year.

MLB.com caught up with Riggleman recently to talk about the 2010 season and the needs for next year.

MLB.com:  When you look at the 2010 season, what sticks out in your mind?  

Jim Riggleman: I have mixed feelings about our year. I’m very disappointed in our record. I’m not disappointed in areas of progress that we have made. I think the bullpen that [general manager] Mike Rizzo put together — with holdovers from last year — gave me a lot of options. I’m very happy with the bullpen. I’m very happy with our defense late in the season with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] and Wilson Ramos. I think that really solidified some things there. Ryan Zimmerman played well at third. Some of that was expected, some of that we didn’t know for sure, but I’m very pleased with a lot of it.

I felt like we gave some games away between the end of May to the All-Star break. I just felt we gave away a lot of games that we should have put away. We just hit an unexplainable funk there of defensive lapses that I really can’t explain. That was disappointing.

MLB.com: If you had to do anything differently, what would it be?  

Riggleman: Early in the year, we were playing three middle infielders and we were winning. But I probably fell into the trap of Cristian Guzman hitting so well, that I got away from that three-man rotation and played Guzman and Desmond. I got away from Adam Kennedy a little bit.

Guzman’s numbers continues to be good, but our victories went down. So when I went back and put Kennedy in there —  because he didn’t play — he wasn’t the same player for a couple of week — defensively. I probably wouldn’t have fallen into that trap. I probably would have kept rotating those three guys — getting Guzzie at short  little more and Kennedy at second little more. That’s about the only lineup thing I would have done differently.  

MLB.com: The Nationals had a good first month, going 13-10. Did you expect the team to finish the season with  a record of .500 or better? If so, how disappointing was it that the team finished with a losing record.
Riggleman: At our highest point, we were 20-15. We were not really hitting on all cylinders at that time – by any means. Tyler Clippard was on fire. He bailed us out in many situations. Matt Capps was outstanding. What Clippard and Capps were doing, there was no way that could continue like that. We weren’t really hitting at that point. Guzman was hitting, but Ryan Zimmerman missed [games] because of injury.

So we were not hitting on all cylinders and I didn’t know how to take our record. I felt we were winning games because we played good defense the first six weeks and Capps and Clippard were outstanding.  I didn’t get caught up in what our record was, what it might be. I was going day-to-day.  

MLB.com: What do you think is the biggest need for 2011?

Riggleman: That’s a great question because I agree with Mike. [We need] a front-line starting pitcher/. However, if there isn’t a front-line pitcher we could obtain, then I would be comfortable with our starting pitching the way it is. But strengthen the strength which is our bullpen. Make it stronger with the understanding that our starters are who they are and we may be going to be bullpen even earlier because we have another guy or two down there to go along with Clippard, Peralta, Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and Doug Slaten. But ideally, you are talking about a top-line starting pitcher and that is very hard to obtain.

MLB.com: What about the offense? It was a disappointment.

Riggleman: If you break each guy down individually — Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Michael Morse Desmond, Pudge — you say he was OK. In  couple of cases, Dunn and Zimmerman had really good offensive years. But collectively, it did not produce the runs  that you would think it would produce. If each guy had an OK year, you would think that we would [have more runs scored]. So we missed something there — the situational hitting or whatever. We didn’t score as many runs  as we should have scored based on each guys individual performance.  

MLB.com: Do you think the defense needs improving?

Riggleman: I think it is already strengthened. Certainly, we can’t play the way we did during the period before the  All-Star break. From mid-May to late June, it was terrible. I think with Pudge and Ramos, Zimmerman, Espinosa and Desmond, I think our defense has a chance to be real good. Our defense in the outfield? In the baseball community, I think each guy would be considered probably an average outfielder at their positions. That’s OK. If you are an average Major League outfielder, that’s a compliment.

I think our defense, without changing personnel, will be better next year. Surprisingly, I didn’t realize it, I guess it was better this year than it was last year. It didn’t seem like it, did it?

MLB.com: Not at all. The final question is, are you coming back to manage the Nationals next year?

Riggleman: I’ve been given every indication that I’m coming back, but I haven’t signed on the dotted line. That’s all I can say about it.

Nats sending scouts to see Webb

The Nationals are sending scouts to watch D-Backs right-hander Brandon Webb pitch in Instructional League games on Saturday and Thursday, according to a baseball source. 

Webb will pitch the first game in Tucson, Ariz., while the second game will take place at Chase Field, the home of the D-Backs.

Webb, who is a free agent after the season, hasn’t pitch in almost two years because of shoulder problems.

It was learned by MLB.com on Friday that Webb would have interested in playing for the Nationals if he doesn’t re-sign with Arizona. It’s not a secret that Webb has a close relationship with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who drafted Webb in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft when Rizzo was director of  scouting with Arizona.

According to published reports, Webb threw one inning on Wednesday and didn’t have any problems throwing the baseball. He told MLB.com that day that his fastball was clocked in the 80s, but he expects the velocity to improve with each outing.

It was the first time Webb faced hitters in a game since Opening Day 2009 when he experienced shoulder discomfort that would lead to shoulder surgery in August of that year.

If he signs with any teams, Webb most likely would have to sign an incentive-laden deal because hasn’t pitched in a big-league game in almost two years.

Rizzo was not available for comment. 

Webb may be a risk worth taking. There was a three-year period where Webb was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. In 2006, Webb was the National League Cy Young award winner  by going 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA. Two years later, he won 22 games and had a 3.30 ERA with Arizona.