- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

The two entries on Jim Riggleman’s resume that have drawn the most attention this month are his managerial stints in Chicago and Seattle. Riggleman’s first job managing in the big leagues, though, might be more relevant for Washington Nationals fans trying to decide whether the 56-year-old should lose his interim title and get this job on a full-time basis.

From 1992 to 1994, Riggleman was skipper of the Padres. And though his tenure in San Diego didn’t produce anything close to impressive results - he posted a .385 winning percentage - there are parallels to that situation and Riggleman’s current one.

The 1994 Padres got off to a 10-32 start and were written off. But in the final 75 games of a season that ended prematurely because of the players’ strike, that club went 37-38.

“Which is what I’d like to see us do here - make that kind of progress,” Riggleman said Friday. “The reason we made that much progress was because our young pitchers really started settling in. And again, we have a similar situation here.”

Indeed, San Diego’s rotation that year featured four promising young arms age 26 or younger: Andy Benes, Andy Ashby, Scott Sanders and Joey Hamilton. Riggleman said he believes the Nationals’ young starters - John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler and others - could develop the way the Padres’ rotation did more than a decade ago.

“They didn’t know if they could pitch there, but every five days they started to realize they could pitch at that level,” he said. “And we became a tough team to beat. … There were a lot of similarities, and I do draw from those experiences.”

Morgan sits, Harris starts

Nyjer Morgan debuted atop the Nationals’ lineup July 3 (two days after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates) and never relinquished that spot for three weeks. On Friday, though, the speedy center fielder and leadoff man was given his first day off since the trade; Riggleman sought to give him a breather amid a 25-day stretch without an off day.

Riggleman had thought about sitting Morgan - who in 19 games is hitting .342 with 11 stolen bases - earlier in the week but was hesitant to make that move.

“He continues to play well,” Riggleman said. “But he’s probably 165 to 170 pounds or something, and we’re hitting a long stretch of games here. So it’s more or less give him a blow and get him back in the lineup tomorrow.”

Taking Morgan’s place in center field and atop the lineup was Willie Harris, who had become a stalwart before the trade with the Pirates but has struggled to crack Riggleman’s starting nine since. Most of Harris’ playing time lately has come at second base even though he’s a better defensive outfielder.

“Willie is very versatile,” Riggleman said. “But with Nyjer in center and [right fielder Josh] Willingham and [left fielder Adam] Dunn being such a big part of our offense, it’s getting tougher to get Willie some at-bats.”

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