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.

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