By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — What can a manager do? What can he say to his team when it is so deep in last place it can’t see the next-to-last team without the Hubble Telescope and then it is a faint view?
That’s the situation Cincinnati Reds manager Jim Riggleman finds himself in as he tries to make enough of an impression so the front office removes the interim in front his name and hires him as manager.
With a month-and-a-half left in another dreary season, the Reds are entrenched in last place, nine games behind the next-to-last Pittsburgh Pirates. A fourth straight last place finish is a given. With a 52-68 record, the Reds are 17 games behind first place Chicago.
And right now the Reds are in free fall, losing their last three games by 9-2, 10-3 and 8-1.
So what does Riggleman do to motivate them? After Tuesday night’s loss to the Cleveland Indians, Riggleman addressed his team after the game and try to inject positive thoughts.
“I talked to the club a little bit last night about that,” said Riggleman. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s remember who we are. We are a good ball club.’”
Riggleman said the Reds ran into a very hot Pittsburgh club right after the All-Star break. The Pirates were on a long winning streak and bludgeoned the Reds three straight by 12-1, 6-2 and 9-2.
“And now we are playing a Cleveland club that is really hot (nine wins in its last 11 games),” said Riggleman. “I told them, ‘Sometimes you just run into a buzz saw and don’t forget we are a good club. We are getting beat around a bit right now, but we’ve beaten some good clubs. That has to stay in your memory. We’ve beaten good clubs.’”
Riggleman said he told his team, “We can beat these teams. Just remember we can play with anybody in the league.”
But he is a realist, too, and told the media before Wednesday’s game against the first-place Indians, “If you are playing a first place team and they are playing at their highest level, that’s tough. You are going to have a hard time beating them. The right thing to say is, ‘Hey, we’ll beat ‘em.’ But the standings indicate that the first place club is there for a reason and if they happen to be playing at the top of their game. . .”
In reference to Cleveland, he said, “You run into that offense over there and with Corey Kluber pitching, that’s World Series type stuff.”
RIGGLEMAN WAS ASKED Tuesday who his emergency catcher would be if both Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali were unavailable. After a brief pause, he said, “That’s a good question and I’ve thought about that. I believe Brandon Dixon could do it.”
Dixon has played infield and outfield for the Reds this year and on Monday he made his pitching debut in a blowout game and went 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez, who has homered in three straight games entering Wednesday’s game.
Dixon, asked if he knew he was the back-up catcher and if he had ever caught said, “No, I hadn’t heard that. I’ve never caught before but I’m sure I could get it done in extreme cases. Maybe I caught in Little League for a couple of innings, but that’s about it.
“Yeah, it would be fun,” he said. “I’m up for whatever they have for me. Whatever they need. That’s my position right now. Get back there and put on the gear? Sure, why not?”
Of his pitching performance, where he used nothing but 62 to 65 miles an hour cutters, Dixon said, “I heard from a lot of my friends. They poked fun at me for not getting the pitches up to 70 miles an hour.” Yeah, but they never struck out Jose Ramirez, did they? “Yeah, exactly. I guess those are his weakness.”
Riggleman said the only time he would put Dixon there is under extreme conditions, like if he had to pinch-run for a catcher and put the other catcher into the game and that catcher got hurt and had to come out.
RIGGLEMAN, THOUGH, IS doing a lot of experimentation with players these days. On Tuesday, late in the game, he moved Eugenio Suarez from third base to shortstop, his original position.
“We’ll play Suarez at shortstop if we have to give Jose Peraza a day off, which probably will happen on this upcoming road trip,” said Riggleman.
Dilson Herrera, basically a second baseman, played some third base Tuesday and also has been in the outfield. Riggleman was asked if Herrera was showing the versatility teams need out of extra players and he said, “He played second and third at Triple-A and he has looked OK in the outfield. We would be comfortable putting him at second or third while left field is still a work in progress.”
When told that Dixon said he could catch, Riggleman laughed and said, “Did you ask him? I bet he could do it. Any time you have a utility players who can add that to their repertoire (catcher) it’s a good thing for them. It might be the difference whether they are on the club or not if you are a guy who can catch.
“But catching is a complicated thing and it is not like you’d ever want to start him in a game,” he said. “It would be an emergency thing. You might want him to dabble in it (in practice) so he wouldn’t get hurt in a game, find a way to receive the ball, block pitches, without hurting himself.”
FIDEL CASTRO IS ALIVE and well. No, not the former Cuban dictator. This Fidel Castro is a 19-year-old shortstop in the Reds minor league system, playing this year for the Reds Dominican Summer League team. And he is not from Cuba. He is from the Dominican Republic.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Before nearly every game, Reds manager Jim Riggleman begins his pre-game media press conference by taping questions asked by Fox Sports Ohio. On Wednesday, there was no taping and when Riggleman found out he said, “ Damn, I combed my hair today for nothing.”