Cubs name Riggins pitching coach, finalize staff
Club's former Minors coordinator back in bigs after 15 years
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Baseball players don't return to the big leagues after a 15-year absence, but Mark Riggins is going to get that chance.
The Cubs named Riggins as their new pitching coach on Monday, replacing Larry Rothschild, who signed a three-year deal with the Yankees in November. Riggins, 53, does have some big league time, having served as the Cardinals' pitching coach under Joe Torre and Mike Jorgensen in 1995.
This season was Riggins' third as the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator. He has a similar background to manager Mike Quade. Both waited a long time for the chance to be on a big league staff, both signed the same year, and they're the same age.
"I think we have a lot of things in common that we can share in our history, and I think that forms a bond," Riggins said.
The addition of Riggins completes Quade's staff. He added Pat Listach as bench coach, and the Cubs promoted Dave Keller, Minor League hitting coordinator, as a special assistant.
Riggins was one of four candidates for the job and edged bullpen coach Lester Strode, Triple-A Iowa coach Mike Mason and Double-A Tennessee coach Dennis Lewallyn. Lewallyn will take over the coordinator duties.
"I knew from Day 1 we'd be fine internally," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said.
Riggins was the Cardinals' Minor League pitching coordinator for 12 seasons from 1996-2007, spending a total of 29 seasons in the St. Louis organization. He began his playing career in 1979 in the Cardinals organization after signing out of Murray State. Riggins pitched five Minor League seasons, and his first coaching job was in 1984 in Johnson City, Tenn.
He won't miss the non-stop travel that's required of a pitching coordinator.
"I have a very understanding wife and daughter," Riggins said.
Rothschild had been the longest-tenured coach on the staff, having handled the Cubs pitchers for nine seasons, and he's already offered to help Riggins in the transition. Plus, Riggins can lean on four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, who is entering his second year as an assistant to Hendry.
Riggins said a pitching coach's job has changed since he began with a lot more emphasis on the mental part of the game.
"These guys are a little different as far as their makeups, the confidence levels they have," Riggins said. "They need to be patted on the back a little more than when I started as a pitching coach. You have to treat each guy individually. He may have some problems at home, how he was brought up, his parents, his family. You have to work a lot on the mental side to keep the guys going every day."
The Cubs pitchers can expect a phone call in the next two, three weeks. Riggins wants to introduce himself, get caught up on where they're at in their offseason programs, and prepare them for Spring Training.
He'll have plenty of projects, such as Jeff Samardzija, who compiled a 2.28 ERA in 26 relief appearances in 2008, but hasn't had the same success since. He was 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 35 games (15 starts) at Triple-A Iowa this season.
"I think Jeff got the opportunity to go out there and pitch every five days and pitch on a consistent basis," Riggins said of the right-hander's Iowa season. "Obviously, when you get called up to Chicago, as any pitcher, you may have to do different roles. I thought he was comfortable in Iowa. He requires confidence. He requires a lot of work to stay in his form. [Mason] did a great job down there. I only went in there once every six to seven weeks."
The Cubs may consider moving Andrew Cashner from the bullpen to the rotation if he shows he has developed his pitches. Riggins said Cashner relied on two pitches when used in relief with the Cubs, but in the Minors the right-hander was throwing his changeup more.
Besides Rothschild, Riggins has worked with Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. The emphasis was not just on pitching mechanics but also the mental side of the game and the need to come to the ballpark prepared to win.
"It's a demanding game," Riggins said. "Athletes, I don't think they know how good they can be until they're pushed hard enough to see what they can do."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.