Chico Harlan notes that the Nats have sorted out most of their big issues for 2009: the Dominican Republic signing bonus scandal, Jim Bowden getting fired, Manny Acta getting fired, the draft, signing Strasburg, and making Mike Rizzo permanent. Now all they have left to do is to figure out if Jim Riggleman gets the “interim” tag taken off his title:
Under Riggleman, the Nats are 18-20. They’ve been streaky. They just wrapped up a disappointing 1-5 homestand. But just to put Washington’s improvement in perspective, the team didn’t win its 18th game under Acta until June 17 — a night when the record improved to 18-46.
It’s a bit premature, I know. But I’ll ask anyway.
Chico “asks” whether Riggleman should be brought back in poll form. I’ll opine: nah. Nothing personal against Riggleman, but the improvement since he was hired is likely more evidence that this is not as terrible a Nats team as it appeared under Manny Acta than it is evidence that Jim Riggleman is a miracle worker. Yes, near-.500 ball is impressive from this group, but can anyone (paging NBC Washington’s Chris Needham!) point out what Riggleman has done that is so special? Special enough to overlook his historically ho-hum presence on the multiple teams he has managed? More special than the roster cleaning and restructuring that Rizzo has done to fix what was a horribly-constructed team at the start of the season?
Above all of that is the sense that the Nats really and truly (a) need to make sure they have a manager in place that has a track record of working well with and developing young talent, especially pitching talent; and (b) need to inject some sort of excitement into this team that will motivate people to actually, you know, buy tickets to watch these guys as they get better.
That’s a tough combo. Usually the big colorful Billy Martin-type managers are guys who don’t do too well with kids because, hey, they don’t have to. But it’s worth seeking out, and for that reason I think the Nats should offer Riggleman a hearty thank you, a nice coaching job, and look onward into the future with another man at the helm.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.