Rizzo has good feeling about Nationals

Rizzo has good feeling about Nationals

Rizzo has good feeling about Nationals
Talk to general manager Mike Rizzo and he is confident the Nationals can do better than they did in 2010, a season in which they finished in fifth place in the National League East with a 69-93 record.

Rizzo's confidence is helped by the fact that he signed free agents Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche this past offseason.

MLB.com caught up with Rizzo on Sunday afternoon to talk about the Nats, the team's defense, Bryce Harper, Jim Riggleman and Stephen Strasburg.

MLB.com: How do feel about your team going into the regular season?

Rizzo: I feel good about the team. We energized the ballclub. I think we are a faster, more athletic, defensive-oriented club. I think we are going to find ways to score runs. We are going to play good defense. It's going to make our pitchers better. The bullpen is strong. We feel good where we are at.

MLB.com: Defense has been the weakest part of the team since 2008. How much will it improve?

Rizzo: I think we have legitimate two-way players at each position. It just so happens that we put an emphasis on the defensive side of the game. We know we are going to be very rangy -- infield and outfield. We are going to get to more balls. We are going to be more sure-handed. We are going to throw to the right base. We are going to play the game the right way. With the influx of defensive talent along with the fundamentals, we are going to be better.

MLB.com: How tough was it to watch the team play defense the last three years. The team was always at or near the bottom of that category?

Rizzo: When you have bad defense, everything else kind of snowballs -- more pitches for the pitcher. You are giving good teams like the Phillies, Braves and Marlins extra outs and extra chances. We did that way too many times. We took ourselves out of situations where the double play was in order. It's not a good way to play baseball. It's not an efficient way to win games. We think we are going to be that much more efficient this year.

MLB.com: You didn't get the ace pitcher you were looking for. How satisfied are you with the current starting staff?

Rizzo: I think the staff is going to be improved. I think you are going to see a different Jordan Zimmermann. He is a year-plus out of Tommy John surgery. I think you are going to see an improved John Lannan and Yunesky Maya. I think all the guys that are in competition for the rotation are going to step up and pitch better than they did last year.

MLB.com: You were quoted as saying you were frustrated you couldn't get that ace pitcher this offseason. Was that really the case?

Rizzo: Yeah. You know me. I'm a very competitive person. We knew going into the offseason, it was a priority for us to improve our rotation. It was probably not the best move to announce to the world that it was our main goal, but that's me. I made the statement because that was what I thought. It was a need of ours. What I found out was, ace pitchers are very difficult to acquire. It's much better and much easier to develop your own. We are always looking and we are still trying to improve ourselves, but they are very difficult to get.

MLB.com: Ever since you signed Werth, almost every superstar player who is a free agent or could be traded has been linked to the Nationals. When you hear, for example, the name Albert Pujols, what do you think?

Rizzo: It really doesn't come into play for me at all. I think this is going to be a place that really good players want to play because it is a great city and has a great fan base. It's going to be a really good baseball team that is going to have a chance to win. I could see why players would want to go [to Washington]. It's going to be a destination to be at. I think you are seeing the beginning of that right now.

MLB.com: Do you think the Werth signing will make players want to come to D.C.?

Rizzo: The Jayson Werth signing made us a better baseball team. That will make players want to come here. What it did prove is, we are here to win games. We have an organization that is willing to spend money to acquire talent. We showed it, not only in the last two Drafts, but in the free-agent market. I think word of mouth travels. I know talking to people in the industry, the players have really good things to say about the Washington Nationals -- the way we treat our people. That's a big, important thing because players talk. They talk to each other. What they are saying about us is very positive.

MLB.com: How has Strasburg looked to you since Spring Training began?

Rizzo: He is a guy who is [focused] on rehabbing and getting back to his pre-injury way of pitching. I'm really proud of him. When he couldn't do his baseball activities, he got himself in terrific physical condition. I think once the ligament heals, the rest of his body is better for it. We are excited to see the finished product.

MLB.com: What is the timetable to have Strasburg back on the mound?

Rizzo: That is an open-ended question. It will be determined how Stephen Strasburg develops in rehab. We are in constant contact with the doctors. He is under careful supervision just like any other Tommy John guy.

MLB.com: If Strasburg was healthy, do you think you would have been able to get that ace pitcher?

Rizzo: Whenever the question begins with "if," it's a difficult question to answer. I don't know if it would have changed the minds of other free agents or other pitchers. I can't answer that.

MLB.com: What are your plans for Bryce Harper?

Rizzo: He is going to show up when position players show up. He is going to be one of the guys in big league camp. We are going to see where he is at, development-wise.

MLB.com: You are known not to rush your prospects. If Harper does well, is there a possibility he could get a September callup?

Rizzo: That's another "if" question. I'm not going to answer it. But the easiest answer would be: We don't expect Bryce Harper to be in the big leagues this year.

MLB.com: Let's talk about Riggleman. Is he in a must-win situation?

Rizzo: You are asking a Jim Riggleman question during the second week of Spring Training?

MLB.com: He is on a one-year deal.

Rizzo: Jim Riggleman is the manager of the ballclub. I have great confidence in him.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.