As part of my fundraising campaign to cover spring training, I offered readers who contributed at least $60 the opportunity to submit a question to a member of the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman and four players (Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and Drew Storen) were gracious enough to participate. Readers were randomly paired up with one of those five gentlemen, and I conducted the interviews over the last week.
Here is the final installment of the Reader Q&A, featuring manager Jim Riggleman. ...
Jason Aquino (Falls Church, Va.): What do you see as your role in fostering a winner's culture in the clubhouse? Are there any changes -- big or small -- that you've implemented since taking over last year in support of that effort?
Jim Riggleman: I think implementing a winning culture, a winning atmosphere, has to do with so many things. But I would say you try to create an atmosphere for each player to succeed. In other words, not put players in a position to fail, try to get the best matchups for players, try to get the best conditions to play under for them, remain positive with players through tough times. I think that's the best way to create a winning culture: To stay positive and create a good atmosphere for them to succeed in. If you put them in tough situations, they're probably going to fail and a lot of negativity ensues.
Mike Henderson (Silver Spring, Md.): What exactly will Tim Foli's role be on the coaching staff? Who's idea was it to install him in that role? And by what measures will his success be measured?
Jim Riggleman: That was my idea, and there were a lot of reasons involved. Tim, his background is so diverse. He's done everything there is in the game. He's coached in the big leagues. He's managed in the minor leagues. He played in the big leagues a long time. He's been a minor-league field coordinator. He's an extremely bright, innovative guy, and I can pick his brain and bounce ideas off of. He's a great worker on the field, physically, with players. He's a great teacher. So whatever the title says, it's really meaningless, because we're going to take full advantage of having Tim around. His measure of success? I can tell your right now, he will be successful. He's a proven quantity, has a tremendous reputation in the game and we will take full advantage of it because we know he can add a lot, not only to our players but to our staff.
Pete Davis (Washington): What's your philosophy on using bench players during the season? How do you try to keep your starters fresh all year?
Jim Riggleman: I like that question, because my thought is: Using bench players is very important to keep them sharp. Your guys on the bench, you're going to call on them throughout the season to sometimes play a lot, sometimes pinch-hit, pinch-run, play defense, whatever the case is. But if you don't use them, you're going to get them rusty, and they're not going to perform when you ask them to perform. So I really try to use them more to keep them sharp rather than to keep my regulars fresh. I've been disputed by some people on this. But the game itself -- unless you're a shortstop or a catcher -- is not that physically taxing, to where you actually need a physical rest. The game does wear on you. Over 162 games -- unless you're Cal Ripken or Lou Gehrig -- you do need a little mental break now and again. So whether we call it a rest or whether we just give a guy a day off, I would rather say that we're getting a bench player some playing time to keep him sharp. I don't like to fall into that cliche of: "Well, so-and-so's tired. He's played a lot." If you're tired, you're doing something wrong in your preparation to get ready for the game.
Marty Wall (Rockville, Md.): What are the key factors when determining the very final roster cuts? What is the internal process used, and who is involved in the final decisions?
Jim Riggleman: The internal process is the same thing as the final decision process, which is a lot of meetings, a lot of bouncing around of ideas with the coaching staff, with Mike Rizzo, with the minor-league pitching coordinator, the major-league staff. The reasons that you come up with the final roster are just so diverse. There's so many elements that come into the final decision. Number of pitchers you take as opposed to extra position players. Left- and right-handed hitters. This year, for the first time, we'll be managing a club with a switch-hitter who will start the season not as a regular [Cristian Guzman]. That will be a bonus. There are so many things, almost too much to say in one answer.
Chris Ernst (Vienna, Va.): With the focus on groundball pitching and solid defense and speedsters like Nyjer Morgan and Willy Taveras, is your offensive philosophy going to be more old-school (hit-and-run, stolen bases) to manufacture runs?
Jim Riggleman: We'll have to do some of that, that's for sure. Like any club, every manager tries to maximize the abilities of the player on the team. For someone to say, "He's an aggressive manager, because you like to hit-and-run, steal and all that," that doesn't make much sense if you don't have that type of ballplayers on your ballclub. I think we have the type of players on our club where, if we're getting on base, we can create some pressure on the other club with some speed that we didn't have last year. Particularly Nyjer, Willy Taveras (if he's on the ballclub), Willie Harris. Kind of under the radar, [Ryan] Zimmerman's a better runner than people think. So I think that there is going to be an opportunity to be a little bit more "forcing-the-action" type of baseball.