Jim Riggleman wins manager job, Ryan Zimmerman wins gold glove

Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman caps his best statistical season with a Gold Glove.
Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman caps his best statistical season with a Gold Glove. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
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By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ending their search for a manager right where it began, the Washington Nationals on Wednesday named Jim Riggleman, their interim manager since July, to the full-time post, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations. The terms were not immediately available, but an announcement is expected Thursday.

The finalists were informed of the Nationals' choice on Wednesday, according to one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team has not confirmed the decision. Besides Riggleman, the Nationals were considering former Texas Rangers and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine and former Florida Marlins third base coach Bo Porter.

The news of Riggleman's hiring came on the same day Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was awarded a Gold Glove as the National League's top defensive third baseman, a first for the franchise since it moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005.

Riggleman, 57, had the backing of many in the Nationals' front office and executive suite, after taking over for the fired Manny Acta when the Nationals were 26-61 (a .299 winning percentage), and leading them to a 33-42 (.440) record the rest of the way.

But the Nationals undertook a wide-ranging search that, in addition to the finalists, included as candidates former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin and Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly. Mattingly, believed to be Joe Torre's heir to the Dodgers' managing job, eventually took his name out of consideration.

Nationals President Stan Kasten acknowledged earlier this week he prefers a "long" search with multiple candidates because of the opportunity it provides to gain "lots of insights" into your own team.

Still, it is believed the Nationals had serious interest in Valentine until the very end of the process, even though the outspoken and gregarious (and presumably expensive) Valentine, as a candidate, represented the polar opposite of Riggleman, who as a leader is understated and steady.

Riggleman has previous managing experience with the San Diego Padres (1992-94) and the Chicago Cubs (1995-99), as well as the Seattle Mariners in 2008 on an interim basis. He has a career record of 555-694 (.444), with his only playoff appearance coming with the Cubs in 1998.

Meanwhile, the news of Zimmerman's Gold Glove earlier Wednesday represented a bit of history for a franchise that has precious little hardware to show for its five seasons in D.C.

The last player in franchise history to win a Gold Glove was shortstop Orlando Cabrera in 2001, when the team still played in Montreal, and the last (and only) Washington player to win a Gold Glove prior to Zimmerman was catcher Earl Battey for the 1960 Senators.

"To hear this news and to win something like this, it was very exciting for me and my family," Zimmerman said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. "It's a huge honor."

In giving the third base award to Zimmerman, the voters -- NL managers and coaches -- looked past his mediocre numbers in traditional defensive statistics, such as fielding percentage, in which his .963 mark ranked 12th in the league, well behind San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff, whose .990 set an all-time record for third basemen.

Zimmerman's case was made more with his many highlight-reel plays -- he was honored with more "Web Gems" by ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" than any other player -- and his high ranking in some advanced defensive metrics gaining in popularity, such as UZR, or ultimate zone rating, in which Zimmerman's 18.1 ranked first in the majors among third basemen, well ahead of Kouzmanoff's 7.5.

"I just try to get to every single ball that comes my way," said Zimmerman, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract extension with the team in April. "I think in the past that's hurt me a little bit. When you try to make every single play, it hurts the team more than it helps it. But this year I kind of learned when it's smart to try to make a play, and when it's not."

Nationals notes: Right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 overall draft pick this June, was cleared to make his next scheduled start in the Arizona Fall League on Saturday. Strasburg, 21, had been scratched from his scheduled start in last Saturday's AFL "Rising Stars" game due to a strained muscle in his neck.

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