Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Riggleman on Livo, Nyjer and Storen

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Mattheus was one of a handful of Nats throwing in the bullpen today.
VIERA, Fla. -- There wasn't a whole lot of actual baseball activity on reporting day. Most guys simply showed up at some point, dropped their belongings off, caught up with teammates and then left the premises. A few conducted light workouts on their own, with a handful of pitchers throwing bullpen sessions and a handful of early arriving position players taking BP in the cage.

Tomorrow figures to be a light day as well, with all pitchers and catchers required to take (and pass) physicals. Things finally kick into high gear on Thursday, when pitchers and catchers participate in their first official workout.

Jim Riggleman did meet with media members for the first of what will probably be about 400 of these sessions by season's end. The veteran manager touched on a variety of topics, with a few highlights along the way...

-- Livan Hernandez is all but a lock to start on Opening Day. "Unless something unforeseen happens, Livan has earned it," Riggleman said. "Not only has he had a good year [in 2010], but he's also a composed, veteran guy. The whole atmosphere of Opening Day, all the excitement and that, I think he's able to slow the game down and pitch in an Opening Day situation and not be overwhelmed by it." The rest of the rotation behind Livo is yet-to-be-determined, with the staff factoring in early season matchups while trying to break up left-handers. But Riggleman suggested the club is pretty much set with Jordan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Jason Marquis and Tom Gorzelanny joining Hernandez as the starting five. Yunesky Maya, Ross Detwiler and perhaps Chad Gaudin will compete this spring, but they're going to have to overtake one of those five guys ahead of them on the depth chart.

-- Riggleman understands the importance of having a strong top of the lineup, setting the table for Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. He's tinkered with some different lineup combinations, but if the season began today he'd go with Nyjer Morgan leading off and Ian Desmond hitting second. "I could make a case for Desmond hitting a little lower, in the 6-spot," Riggleman said. "I know that he's been successful hitting second, but it's a fairly small sample. Spring training will help us determine that."

-- There's no real alternative in the leadoff spot if Morgan struggles. "I really don't want to think about that," Riggleman said. "The thing about Nyjer is, Nyjer is like a .290 career hitter. That's pretty good baseball. He did not have a year in '10 to his standards, but I think he's going to do fine." Riggleman said he expects Morgan's numbers to fall somewhere between his standout 2009 totals (.351 average, .391 OBP with the Nationals) and his sub-par 2010 totals (.253 average, .319 OBP).

-- Riggleman probably won't designate a closer by Opening Day. He does believe Drew Storen will ascend to that role at some point, but he's comfortable waiting for the 23-year-old to develop and using a mix-and-match approach until then. "As I sit here right now, I really don't have a situation where I'm saying, 'This has to be our closer,'" the manager said. "We want to win the game, and if I feel this is the best way for us to win the game, that there's a particular group of hitters coming up in the ninth inning that somebody like [Tyler] Clippard or [Sean] Burnett have had a lot of success against, that may be the way we've got to set it up. Eventually, Storen would be the guy we want to do that. If that happens by March 31, we'll certainly welcome that. But we're not going to force that to happen. If he's pitching in the eighth, or if he gets an out in the seventh and then pitches the eighth, and the way it breaks is we need Burnett or Clippard to pitch the ninth, that's fine. Winning the game is a heck of a lot more important than who gets the save."

Plenty more to come this afternoon, including a full article on the state of the Nationals' rotation and Ryan Zimmerman's thoughts on a number of subjects, including Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.


NatsJack in Florida said...

I firmly believe that the achilles heel for the club this season is the leadoff spot and the dependence on Nyjer Morgan. They meaning both Riggleman and Mike Rizzo MUST get their head out of the sand and address the strong potential for Morgans failure in this slot.

Tcostant said...

One of the under reported stories of late last season was how much the Capps trade screwed with Tyler Clippard's use. After the closer by committee appoach in the second, Clipper was used anywhere from the 6th to 9th inning and I think that effected him. In the first half, you rarely saw Clippard anywhere but the 8th.

sjm 308 said...

Not really Riggs fault, but he is correct, he honestly doesn't have options for the lead-off spot if Nyjer fails. I guess he could go with Espinoza or maybe Brown (asuming that is who replaces Morgan) but I agree with NatJack that we are in sort of precarious spot depending on Morgan. Comments like today mean that he is going to be given every opportunity and I would have liked to have read somewhere that he was going to have to "earn" his spot back but that is not what I read today.

What do you folks see as an option for the lead-off role?

Go Nats!!

Private Joker said...

Ala Vince Lombardi, did Riggleman begin Spring Training by holding up a ball and announce, "This, Gentlemen, is a baseball."

DFL said...

If not Morgan, how about Boomer Whiting?

Sam said...

Wow. I just found a new respect for Riggleman. The fact that he mentioned "small sample" in terms of Desmond hitting second and the idea of a mix-and-match bullpen until Storen is "ready." He's learning at the ripe age of 58! Granted, I'm not sure exactly how Sprint Training will help determine if Desmond should hit second if 202 PA against major league pitching is too small a sample. 30 PA against a bunch of minor leaguers working on their slider really shouldn't help determine it either.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Unfortunately, finding a solid leadoff hitter is much harder than locating a closer. It seems to me that closer is a slot that will sort itself out due to the shear number of solid arms available.

A bonifide leadoff hitter does not exist within the organization at this time, or at least one that is ML ready. And identifying a potential leadoff guy from another organization is hardly a choice as we are not the only team keeping our fingers crossed that we can get by with what we've got.

If Rizzo can address this issue in Spring Training, I'll be extremely happy.

P. Cole said...

I, for one, am ready for Nyjer to bounce back.

Tony Plush is dead.

Anonymous said...

For those who are in Viera, please make a public photo album and share photos at your convenience. We would really appreciate it.

BinM said...

I hope Riggleman is keeping an open mind & paying attention in Viera this year.

Granted, the pickings look slim for a leadoff hitter, but I think Espinosa should get a look there, particularly in away games.

For OD, Livo might well be the best choice at the moment - I'm personally more concerned about the overall rotation than who gets the 1st start of the season.

In the bullpen, with 12-14 arms for 7-8 positions, it could be a battle of 'options remaining'. I hope not, and would prefer that the top 7-8 go north in March, regardless. The closer role can be decided once the season is underway; If it comes down to one or two pitchers, go with the best BAA (batting average against) to start the season, imho.

Theophilus said...

The dependence on Morgan is surreal. If the guy's gonna play like he did last year, then any warm stiff who doesn't pick his nose at first base, moon the stands or get suspended would be an improvement. This team lived w/ Soriano as a lead-off man; they've used Christian Guzman as a lead-off man. It's easy to replace Morgan -- just write someone else's name on the lineup card. If he's gonna play like a zero, then any warm body would be an improvement.

Tim the Enchanter said...


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