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Riggleman talks managing Reds' turnaround

July 19, 2018

In a recent phone interview with, Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman answered questions on a wide range of topics, from his managerial style to his respect for Reds ownership. Your agent, Burton Rocks, told me you are having the time of your life. How much fun are you

In a recent phone interview with, Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman answered questions on a wide range of topics, from his managerial style to his respect for Reds ownership. Your agent, Burton Rocks, told me you are having the time of your life. How much fun are you having?
Jim Riggleman: I have to preface it by saying working with and for [former Reds manager] Bryan Price was great. I love Bryan. It was kind of like when I was with Manny [Acta in Washington]. They managed well. It's just that they couldn't win ballgames. After a while, that just catches up to you. The other side of that is, now that I've become the manager, I do, absolutely, love it. I'm enjoying it to the nth degree. It's what I love to do. Once you took over, what made the team click?
Riggleman: I think a couple of things: After about a week into the season, Eugenio Suarez got hit by a pitch and broke a finger. He was out for about three weeks. And then right around the same time, Scott Schebler, our right fielder, had a shoulder issue, and we put him on the DL for a couple of weeks. About that time, I was named the manager.
All of a sudden, most of our guys are healthy. I have a pretty good bullpen, too. We have David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and I have some options to go to that have a chance to work. We also have the full component of hitters back.
When Suarez and Schebler were out, the offense was not clicking. We knew we had a pretty good offensive ballclub, but it wasn't producing. As time went on, sometime in May, it started clicking and we have been scoring runs. The offense has really been productive.
Riggleman: Sometime in late May, guys started finding their stroke. Suarez, when healthy, has been good from Day 1. Scooter Gennett, Joey Votto, Jose Peraza, Billy Hamilton -- who has had a really good month -- they just started clicking. Clubs go through this. It's kind of hard to explain. You have good offensive players, and they are not scoring runs early in the season. That has not been an issue for us lately. We have been putting out pretty good offensive performances on most nights.
They feed off each other with Gennett's energy, which he brings to the ballpark every day. He has been a force in the middle of the lineup. He hits behind Votto, which protects Joey. Suarez hits right in the middle there, and he has been a big run producer. As a manager, what is it like to have Votto on your club?
Riggleman: The thing people will never understand about Joey is the work ethic. The work that he puts in pregame defensively, the work that he puts in with the strength and conditioning coach, then he gets into the batting cage and is relentless with his work. That's a real pleasure. Your best players are great workers. That sets the tone for the rest of the club. Last year, the Reds didn't have any pitching. All of a sudden, under your guidance, the pitching staff is doing well. You have to feel good about that.
Riggleman: I do feel good about it. It's still a work in progress. We have a lot of young starters -- Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano. Anthony DeSclafani is relatively a young starter because he missed a lot of time the last couple of years. They are starting to give us better outings. We have a good bullpen. Our issue was, earlier in the year, our starters were giving us so few innings that our bullpen was really getting overstressed with too many appearances. We've been able to calm that down. I remember when you were with the Nationals, you were a screamer at times when things went wrong. You were not afraid to yell at the players. What did you do to light a fire with the Reds?
Riggleman: By nature, [screaming] isn't what I am. I'm not a screamer and all that. I try to tell people: We as managers, we react to what's happening. We make our moves as a manager based on how the players are performing. I would never get upset with a player because of a poor performance. But I would get upset with what I felt was lackadaisical effort, lackadaisical in the preparation, disrespect for teammates. That's when I would lose it and get loud with a player.
Sometimes, it might be something as simple as removing a pitcher from a ballgame. He thinks he should stay in the game, but you are making the managerial decision to remove him. They get upset, and they get loud with you. So I would get loud back.
But I let [the Reds' players] know when I took over the team, look I may ruffle some feathers, but we are 3-15. We played 18 games and we are already nine games out of first. … I can't stand in front of a room and say we are all right. We are not all right. I'm going to change things up. How much did you miss managing after you left the Nationals during the middle of the 2011 season?
Riggleman: I missed managing tremendously. The thing is, I did manage the next three years after leaving Washington in Double-A and Triple-A. It's not the same, but it's still managing. The fire is still burning when the umpire says, "Play ball." You are still churning with decision-making and managing ballplayers and handling situations. It's not the same extent as the Major Leagues. But it did allow me to continue to do what I love to do. From now until the end of the second half, how far can this team go?
Riggleman: We've scored around six runs a game for quite a while and you can't expect that to continue. That's not realistic. We have to step it up. We got to continue to make progress with the pitching. We have to be able to pitch to a level where we don't have to score five or six runs every night. We can do that, but it's a challenge every night. We have not had many ballgames where we said, "That was a nice easy one." We haven't had any of those. In games we have won, a few plays here and there, we could have lost. Most of our losses have been that way, too. We feel like anything could happen.
We feel we can compete with these good clubs. We played the Braves, Cubs, Brewers, Indians and we held our own against all those teams. That has made our players say, "Hey, we are not far away. We can make some noise in this division. But we also realize, we just got beat 19-4 the other day. We realize we haven't got this thing figured out yet." How happy are you that you brought back hope to Cincinnati?
Riggleman: I don't want to say I brought it back. But I'm really excited about what I'm hearing from fans. When we were in Cleveland and Cincinnati fans made the trip, I heard a lot of comments in the stands. People really appreciate the direction the team is going. When we were in Cincinnati recently, we were 6-0 on our homestand. The excitement around restaurants and bars around the ballpark was at a really high level.
Our owner, Bob Castellini, is a great man. I will tell you: In all my years of baseball, I've experienced something that I never experienced in any place I've been. It's the only time where I sat in my office and the owner has walked in and we've talked baseball. That's a beautiful thing. When you are talking with the owner and he is telling you his feelings -- he might be talking about his disappointments with last night's game or he might be talking about how excited he is about the way the team is playing. I never had that.
My mentor, the guy who I learned from, was Whitey Herzog. He had that relationship with Mr. [August] Busch [Jr.] in St. Louis. [Herzog] would be welcomed into Mr. Busch's house to talk baseball. Mr. Busch would come into his office and talk baseball. It's a great feeling talking to the owner of the ballclub. I never had that any place [until I became interim manager of the Reds]. What is the future like for you? Any chance you will become the permanent manager?
Riggleman: This might sound a little Pollyanna-ish, but I'm going to tell you: I love managing, as you know. The way things ended in Washington, I felt like, "Man, I hope I get a chance to manage again." I know it's unlikely. But here I am. The feeling that overwhelms me is that I'm so glad I'm doing this again. If it ends right here in 2018, I will be fine. I will have such a great feeling of satisfaction that I've done this again. We are winning some games. It's more of a positive note than when I left Washington. If it ends here in '18, I will be OK with it. I will know that the Castellini family; the general manager, Nick Krall; Dick Williams, the president, they have treated me with such great respect that I will feel like, "Hey, anything you want me to do. If you want me to continue to manage, I would love to do it. If you don't, I completely respect it. Let's move on from there." Maybe I will do something else for the organization. Have you heard from Mike Rizzo [Nationals GM and president of baseball operations]?
Riggleman: Mike and I talk during the season when we play [Washington]. Every time we've played the Nationals in the last two or three years, I've gone over and talked to him and praised him. Because I think Mike has put the best team on the field of any general manager in baseball. They are the favorites, and they are the favorites because of the team he has put together there. The team has not been able to go out full-force year after year. This year, it's Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg who are hurt. [If all their players are healthy], they are clearly the best ballclub. That team has been put together by Mike Rizzo. You have to tip your hat to Mike. What's the biggest thing you have learned as a manager now that you didn't learn before?
Riggleman: I haven't changed that much. I'm adapting. As far as dealing with people, I still deal with people in the manner of discipline and respect. I still have a shouting match every now and then with a ballplayer. That's one of the things that I've talked to Mr. Castellini about. I said, "With where we are, I'm going to have to change some things around. I'm going to ruffle some feathers, and I'm going to irritate some people. They are not going to like it. So they are not going to like me. But if you are worried about them liking me, I can tell you right now … I'm not going to have those confrontations if they are not going to be supported." And I was assured, "You do whatever you need to do to get these players going. Whatever you need to do, it will be totally supported."
What has changed is pitcher usage. It's just how few innings we are asking from our starters -- how many bullpen guys we are carrying instead of an extra bench player. You are carrying fewer position guys because you are carrying so many pitchers. I know I used the heck out of [Nationals pitchers] Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Sean Burnett, but that's how we won games. If you want to win games [today], you are going to come up with sore arms in that bullpen. That's just the nature of it.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.