Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman talks about Tyler Mahle’s rough outing and the Reds’ lopsided, 19-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians. The Enquirer/Bobby Nightengale
CLEVELAND – When Jim Riggleman was named the Reds’ interim manager in April, he told players during his first team meeting that he wasn’t planning on making many changes.
He introduced some extra early work before games. He’s shown his own aggressive in-game managerial style.
So far, the results are good.
With three games remaining before the All-Star break, the Reds have a 38-37 record under Riggleman. He won his 700th career game as a manager Tuesday.
“There really was not something you do different,” Riggleman said. “We just changed up a few things to do some things individually early. We just had to get out of the rut we were in.”
Riggleman believed the team’s abysmal start to the season was “inexplicable.” He was confident the Reds’ offense would eventually break out of its slow start.
He remains loyal to former manager Bryan Price, who was fired on April 19. He spent two-plus seasons as Price’s bench coach and never wanted to imply he’s doing anything different than Price.
“I never tried to say anything like, ‘Well here’s what we’re going to do now,’ because it would indirectly be saying we weren’t doing it right to begin with,” Riggleman said. “Under Bryan Price, we were doing everything right. Bryan did a great job. Managed the game well. Managed the team well.”
But the Reds weren’t winning games.
That’s what led to the extra emphasis on the fundamentals during early work. For a few weeks, before home games, small groups of players met on the field around 3 p.m. to work on the basics: bunting, base running and fielding.
It’s the same stuff that every team drills into players during Spring Training.
“Sometimes it’s just like a hitter, he’s in a rut, he just takes a different bat up there,” Riggleman said. “Just do something different. Widen your stance or do something different to get you out of the rut you are in. It’s kind of the approach we took.”
Moving from bench coach to the manager’s seat, Riggleman has shown some differences from Price. Riggleman has been aggressive with a few suicide squeeze plays. He isn’t afraid of using his bullpen earlier in games. He likes to match up lefties against lefties more often.
Of course, it helped when All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suarez and outfielder Scott Schebler returned from the disabled list and the lineup started averaging more than five runs a game.
“The on-field performance has improved a lot,” said Dick Williams, the Reds’ president of baseball operations. “He and the coaches get credit for that. We also think there were some other factors that play there, but certainly, he’s done a lot of what we asked.”
After winning a few series, the Reds started playing with more confidence. Riggleman noticed players are looser.
When Riggleman was named the interim manager, Williams said he wasn’t completely sure what to expect from him.
“I think a lot of people assume, well, you already had Jim. You knew everything about him,” Williams said. “I don’t think it necessarily works that way because a good coaching staff, they know their role and they accept their role.
“Now I think seeing him as a manager, we see he has a very different style of running a ballgame than Bryan and that’s come out through watching him and the way he’s operated.”
Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said Price and Riggleman have similar personalities. Both are laid back but will “get on you” if necessary.
Riggleman always says he focuses on results. If a hitter needs work with his swing, he concedes to hitting coaches Don Long and Tony Jaramillo. It’s the same thing with pitchers.
“I think all the players respected both guys,” Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani said of the two managers. “I think the main point is we’re winning right now. That’s what everyone is excited about.”
The Reds plan to conduct a wide search for their next manager at the end of the season.
“From my conversations,” Williams said, “Jim fully understood when he was put in the job as an interim that you’re going to get a chance to show your skills but we’re committed to, at some point, at least talking to candidates.”
Williams said a big focus of the search will be asking each candidate which information they like to use and why. In a sport with a growing amount of data, Williams says it will be important to see how each manager processes data and analytics.
“I think our offense just took hold the way we thought it would, just based on last year,” Riggleman said. “We went into Spring Training thinking we’re going to have a good offensive ballclub. It didn’t come out of the gates that way. They just kind of picked it up to where we thought they would be.”