Riggins more than ready to get going
New pitching coach has gotten early start on his preparation
CHICAGO -- New Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins can't wait to get started.
Riggins, promoted from Minor League pitching coordinator to replace Larry Rothschild, who left for the Yankees, has talked to nearly all of the Cubs' pitchers this offseason to introduce himself and check on their workout programs.
Next week, when many of the players come to Chicago for the Cubs Caravan and Cubs Convention, they'll do some throwing inside so Riggins can get his first live look and see where they're at in their workouts.
"It's exciting," Riggins said Thursday. "January is preparation time. Christmas is over, New Year's is over and now you start getting ready for your next big project, and that's Spring Training."
Riggins has been the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator for three years, so he's spent the majority of his time with the prospects. Next week also will give him a chance to get to mingle with the pitchers on the big league roster.
"I do know the guys," Riggins said. "Once I get to Chicago [next week], I'll download a lot of videos and review everybody and compare stats of what they've done and see if they can get a little better in certain areas. The guys are good. Another set of eyes might see something that we can make some adjustments here and there and try to get better."
The Cubs did lead the National League and ranked second in the Major Leagues with 96 quality starts, the most by the team since totaling 100 in 2003. The staff also totaled 14 shutouts, the most since '03 when the Cubs also blanked opponents in 14 games. But that wasn't good enough, as the team finished fifth in the NL Central. Chicago ranked 13th in the NL with a 4.18 ERA.
Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija are among the pitchers working out now at the team facility in Mesa, Ariz., and others are expected to join them by the end of the month. Riggins also may make a trip there before camp officially opens.
He and Tim Buss, the strength and conditioning coach, put together offseason programs for the pitchers.
"The guys are professionals and they have their own programs and some have their own trainers," Riggins said. "[Our offseason program] is a guideline, and if they want to use it, OK. If they've been successful with what they've done in the past, that's fine with me, too."
The Cubs have talked about moving Andrew Cashner from relief to the rotation. Riggins said it wouldn't be that difficult a transition for the hard-throwing right-hander, who is using the same offseason program he did prior to 2010 when he was preparing to start.
Cashner began last season with Double-A Tennessee as a starter and was 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in six games. He moved up to Triple-A Iowa, where he was 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in five games, including three starts.
The big league team needed bullpen help, which is where Cashner was inserted when called up May 31. He posted a 4.80 ERA in 53 games, striking out 50 in 54 1/3 innings. The Cubs' No. 1 Draft pick in 2008, Cashner finished strong with a 1.80 ERA in his final 14 games.
"As far as Cashner [starting], it's still talk," Riggins said Thursday. "I think once we all get together in Chicago next week, maybe something concrete will come out of it."
Riggins also has talked to Angel Guzman, who is rehabbing in Mesa following shoulder surgery. Guzman is getting close to throwing off a mound and doing well, Riggins said.
At this point in the offseason, the pitchers should be doing their side work. Riggins said he's eager to see some of the Cubs' young talent, like Casey Coleman and Chris Carpenter. They'll get a good look when camp begins in February.
"All of the guys have great makeups," Riggins said. "The guys with great makeups can make adjustments on the fly. I know they'll all be prepared when the opportunity comes in Spring Training. We'll have a little competition there."
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.