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Manny's Best Team Yet

I'd imagine that even most husbands and wives don't often communicate with the regularity of baseball writers and managers. On game days, we talk both before and after; for Manny Acta, that's 324 media encounters right there, and that doesn't even account for the daily sessions in spring training, the casual conversations during the offseason, and occasionally the meteorological quizzing he'll get at the end of a rainout.

"Manny, uh, how do you reshuffle your staff after this?"

Yesterday, Acta officially spoke with the media for the first time of the season. You can read a bit more here. This won't be the last time you hear Acta's thoughts this season on these matters, but I'll add a bit more of the context below.

Manny on his contract, where his option for 2010 has yet to be picked up, and whether he is concerned: "No, because not too many people are as blessed as I am. I'll have a job. I'll have a job, and all I can control is to manage this team to the best of my ability. Whoever's patience runs out, that I can't control. And I really don't worry about that. I don't know if you guys want to put it to rest right now, I'm going to tell you: The economy is not good. Where I live, the unemployment rate is high, and I have a job in 2009. It would be bad if I start whining and complaining about not having a job for next year."

On whether this team gives him a fairer chance to test his own managing ability: "I am very confident in my abilities. I don't do things that are completely out of this world. I don't try to reinvent the wheel. There are very few geniuses in this game anyways. I think just ... the biggest part of this job is handling the everyday 25-30 guys you have working under you. Plus, I have won at every level I have worked before. Except for here. It's going to be a matter of time. I have won in Class A ball. I have won in winter ball. I have won in Class AAA the year I worked there. So, I don't have to change my approach. Just be patient, keep on working and it will come."

On his biggest concern with this team: "The biggest one is our bullpen. We're rebuilding our bullpen. It was a luxury for this ballclub these last few years coming into camp having Cordero, Rauch and Ayala and the discovery of Saul [Rivera] a couple years ago, too. Despite our shortcomings, very few teams had a bullpen like we had. And now, three of those guys on the back end are gone and the kids that pitched well last year, it was their first time around and you still don't know. That will be the toughest challenge here to put together a quality bullpen."

By Chico Harlan  |  February 16, 2009; 6:21 AM ET
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Next: Pitching Practice


Here's something it would be nice to know. Who's running spring training this year? The last two years it was a job that Acta delegated to Tim Tolman, with less than effective results, I'd say. Spring training should lay the foundation for the season, and 9-25 starts do not come after a good foundation has been laid. With Tolman gone, has Acta delegated the job of spring training coordinator to some other coach, or is he doing it himself now?

Posted by: nunof1 | February 16, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse


You can get stats for where each guy bats in the order at

This page happens to be for Ryan Zimmerman, but you can plug in whichever player(s) you are looking for.


Posted by: db423 | February 16, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the story and context for "Mr. Perky" (that gave me a chuckle).

We must be an unusual married couple because we communicate more than twice a day during (and outside of) the season. ;-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 16, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

A couple posts back, estuartj posed a question that deserves a response: "I'd also like a rundown of the benefits of a l/r/l/r line-up vs a rr/ll/rr line-up. I'm sadly ignorant of the effects a mixture has on pitchers..."

Far as I know, the only reason is to affect the opposing manager's bullpen strategy. If the other team wants a lefty specialist to face both Johnson and Dunn (for instance), said lefty has to also get through Ryan Zimmerman (for instance). If you have but one lefty swimming in an ocean of 6 northpaws, the pitching changes are easier to figure. It's a little thing, but it helps some.

(If someone can point out that it helps in other ways, I'd be happy to hear that too.)

Posted by: Scooter_ | February 16, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Forgot to note that, after perusing the dead-tree edition, it looks like another good week for chats. Good to see that Nats chats will be firing up again!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 16, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse


The opposite is true as well of course. You want to make sure that a RH reliever has to face a lefty or two in a crucial situation.

In fact I heard Bowden say once that even though some RH hitters have good stats against RH pitching, in clutch situations those are sometimes meaningless. His rationale was that when the adrenaline is pumping in a late inning close ball game, it's really hard for a RH hitter to lay off a good slider from a top RH reliever. He was commenting on the Nats' need for a big LH stick at the time.

Casey Stengel was also quoted as saying that a team should never bat three slow RH hitters in a row. He argued that it was a recipe for lots of double plays. I have to say though that the Nats don't have too many slow RH hitters in their line up. In fact their slowest players perhaps, except for Flores maybe, are the two LH - Dunn and Johnson.


Posted by: db423 | February 16, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I like to hear that Manny is talking about the need to do something different this year. At the Season Ticket Lunch last month Acta bordered on arrogance in belittling fans questions about the need to manufacture runs. The poor guy who asked the questions used the term "small ball" and that set Acta off. What fans in the stands have been talking about around my seats is just what Acta is now saying, that is, the need to....."Compensate with those type of things with the lack of, I guess, amount of superstars or talent here. I'm trying to get these guys to do a lot of the stuff that some teams that are loaded with talent might not do." In the WTimes write up he goes on to say that he wants to take the extra base given to them when the pitch is in the dirt and bounces away from a catcher…..While this is no a straight steal it is the type of thing fans have been asking for about and I find it very interesting that Manny after belittling season ticket holders about “small ball” is now making this little things a focus of spring training……just two years later than he could have.

Posted by: JayBeee | February 16, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

JayBeee, I think there is a difference between "taking the extra base" and what most people refer to as "small ball." For me, "small ball" means bunting runners over, and aggressively stealing bases without regard for success; its logic relies on the myth of the "productive out." It seems that Manny is talking about squeezing more runs out of a season by doing the little things right, particularly through better base running. I have no problem with aggressive base running, and it was a problem for the Nats last year, so I hope they work on it. But this doesn't mean Manny is embracing "small ball."

Posted by: NattyFan | February 16, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

NO I understand that he is not going to small ball but the questions asked of him were not really about small ball as much as a frustration that this team did not and still does not have the talent to make Acta's big rally, 3 run HR very likely and thus the need to do something that would get some runs......Getting a guy home from 3rd with less than 2 outs, going from 1st to 2nd on a ball in the dirt, going 1st to 3rd on a ball in the gap, taking some pitcher and working a walk to start an inning, getting a productive out from your pitchers.....all these things are ways to improve your offense and ALL are things the Nats really suck at.

Posted by: JayBeee | February 16, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Moving right posts up. ^

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 16, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

----After discussing the need to improve fielding and base running, Acta said: "We have to compensate with those type of things with the lack of, I guess, amount of superstars or talent here. I'm trying to get these guys to do a lot of the stuff that some teams that are loaded with talent might not do."---

Injuries happen, but the Nats looked really bad at times by lacking some Little League fundamentals that Manny was criticized for. Lets hope that these fundamentals are addressed.

Sure some of it was horrific baserunning as a whole and some was being too aggressive, but here is the worst I saw which was Milledge on 2nd with less than 2 outs and nobody on first and the ball hit in front of him to the SS and Milledge ran and was easily thrown out at 3rd. This happened not once in 2008, but twice! Unexceptable.

Nats pitchers were pathetic bunters last year which is a fundamental all NL pitchers must be able to do. Unexceptable.

Outfielders missing their cutoffs. Unexceptable.

Nationals pitchers walking opposing pitchers. Unexceptable.

The opposing pitcher appears to be having control problems and walks a Nat. The next Nats player into the batter's swings at the 1st pitch to help the pitcher. Unexceptable.

It is Spring Training so please tell me these Little League fundamentals will be worked on. Chico, please give us an update. Thanks!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 16, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Let's put the 'optimist' hat on for a moment, something I admit I haven't done much over the offseason.

The Nats COULD have 5 players that hit 20 more home runs in 2009, Dukes - Zimmerman -Dunn - Johnson - Willingham and another 2-3 who are in the teens in Flores, Milledge and Guzman.

In extended action, 4 of those players could be hitting north of .285-.290 - Guzman, Johnson, Zimmerman and Dukes.

In re the pitching staff, you are looking at a very young group. The organization is looking for stability from Scott Olsen and Odalis Perez, a leap forward from John Lannan and solid improvement from Collin Balester and Shawn Hill. What the club gets from Jordan Zimmermann in my mind is a bonus in 2009.

I don't see any 20 game winners here yet, but given the number of quality starts one could see Lannan post the 12-15 wins he could have had last year with better run support.

Olsen is another player I think could nudge to the 10-14 win plateau in 2009.

So, I think the pitching can be better in 2009 and I actually think it will be 'optimist' hat on or not.

Where you have to sport the 'optimist' hat as Manny indicated is th bullpen. Hanrahan has to prove he is the closer of the present. Rivera is the only proven commodity back there. Hinckley has to show he can be as effective now that major league hitters will have a book on him.

One interesting question is what will the Nats do if they get timely hitting and the starters hold up, but the bullpen is a let down?

Pressure would mount to trade for a reliever or two or bring someone up from AA or AAA.

That could mean Terrell Young's stay in Washington as a Rule 5 player could be short.

Posted by: leopard09 | February 16, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

"Little League mistakes" from people who can't spell better than a fifth-grader.


It is Spring Training so please tell me these Little League fundamentals will be worked on. Chico, please give us an update. Thanks!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 16, 2009 9:59 AM

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 16, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Outfielders missing their cutoffs. Unacceptable.

Nationals pitchers walking opposing pitchers. Unacceptable.

Misspelling "unacceptable" five times in a single post: Priceless.

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 16, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Where is that spell-check when I need it most!!!

Thanks for setting me straight on "unacceptable"!!!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 16, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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