Thursday, February 22, 2007
Manny Acta Press Conference 2/22/07
This morning (Thursday, February 22), I was offered the opportunity, by Our Washington Nationals, to attend Manager Manny Acta's early morning Press Conference alongside all of the mainstream press. No way I was going to pass up the opportunity.
Arriving early, at 7:30am, at Space Coast Stadium, I ran right into Team President Stan Kasten. "I heard you would be here today. Its good to see you," Kasten stated. We shook hands. Talked briefly. I was granted a credential for one FULL DAY of access to The Washington Nationals players, manager, coaches and facilities.
And, I dove right in, heading immediately to The Nationals Clubhouse to interview virtually every single player on the team, for a few minutes each, before Acta's Presser began. At one point, while chatting with Joel Hanrahan, I was so engrossed in the conversation, I did not realize that all the players had quieted up and moved their chairs in a circle around the Locker Room. Team President, Stan Kasten was about to begin a Team Speech. I needed to go. Some players were chuckling. "You give the blogger guy some leeway, and he takes a mile," Jason Bergmann laughed. I nodded and waved, then pointed right at him as I left the room. "You're next!! on my list, so watch out."
This amazing day for me as a baseball fan, WILL NOT BE SOON FORGOTTEN. The amount of information, interviews and antidotes will last me some time. So, I will be posting up the timely stuff first. Beginning with The Entire Manny Acta Press Conference from this morning.
Manny, what is your philosophy on sacrifice bunts?
"I do believe in having runners on second and third with one out. If you see anybody who is hitting 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th in this situation and they end up bunting--Don’t come to me to ask me if I put this into play, because they probably did it on their own. I do not have the middle of the order guys sac bunting. So that will make it easier on you. I do believe in that. Obviously, I told the guys exactly this yesterday. You can trust, I will have the top two guys in the order doing that, and the bottom guys in the order."
Will the team play any intrasquad games before the Grapefruit League Schedule begins?
"There will be 2 intrasquad games before the exhibition season begins, two of them. I need to find the innings for 36 guys (laughing). We will play two of them. Have a day off, and then begin the schedule games. Not a day off, just not a game day. Then, we will start the Grapefruit League."
Will you use players from the Minor League camp for these games also?
"Not only the pitchers, but the position players. Because you all know the third date or 4th, we have a split squad day. So we shall start there. So, whatever we need, that is available for us, we will grab from over there (Minor League Camp) And, those guys are going to be in playing shape, too."
Are you ready to get away from practice and on with the games?
" I will get to that point once we get done covering all the fundamentals. That is really important, you don’t want to start playing the games and guys not knowing what we are all about here. So, in about two more days, I will be just about ready to start the games."
Are you pleased with the progress on defense?
"I am very happy. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. We are not changing everything that was done in the past. With our team finishing dead last in defense last year, we are just trying to keep it as simple as possible. Just eliminate extra stuff. We do have to bring the number of errors down. So, we don’t want to load them up (the players) with a lot of different ideas with trick plays and stuff. Which I am not a big believer in anyway."
Do you know who will pitch that first Grapefruit League Game and the pitching order?
"Yeah, we have that set up already." (And, for that first weekend of the exhibition season, you are just going to use pitchers 2- 3 innings top?) “It (innings pitched) will all start during the intrasquad games. 2 innings and stuff like that. Obviously, we will have (John) Patterson lined up to be The Opening Day Starter in Washington. To do that, he will have to start the second game of The Grapefruit League."
Chad’s Situation is now done. Are happy all of that is behind you. Does the business of baseball weigh you down as manager?
“I try to stay away from that (the business aspects). That’s the Front Office type of thing. I am just the buffer in between. It’s a tough process to go through. It does not matter how good you are, you are going to see and hear some negative stuff in that process. I am glad its over. I want to have “Chief” happy. I think this process makes the players happy anyway. Even when they don’t win, they still get a significant amount of money. But, that is not always the case. And, its always good to have your closer happy (chuckling). So, if the guys earns the money, that’s what the arbitrator ruled. We respect their decision."
How important is it to have a power hitter coming off your bench, or someone like (Ronnie) Belliard?
"In an ideal world, everyone would like to have that power person coming off the bench. Because there comes a situation where you want to be a swing away from tying up the ball game. Obviously, some guys have better chances to do that, than others. You need to have enough room (off the bench) to have your get on base guy, your hit guy, your double switch guy and a guy that can probably pop the ball out of the ballpark in the 8th or 9th inning with one or two outs."
What do you expect out of Cristian Guzman this year. And how important is he to your overall game plan this season?
“Health will be the key. Everybody knows that. If he is healthy, he is going to help us. I am repeating myself, if he doesn’t even try, he can hit .219 again here and play again the way he played in 2005. I think I can tell he’s got pride. He wants to show everybody he’s not that bad. I am looking for him to hit over .260 and play solid defense. If he does, that would be a major, big time, contribution for us.”
What was Stan’s Message when he spoke with the team, this morning?
“The same thing you guys have been hearing for the past couple of months. And, since the Lerners became the ownership group. We are here to build a champion, a Championship Club. He sent a clear message to those guys, and how important it is for us to become a Championship Team, a winning franchise, but also to get into the community and become a little bit more, fan friendly. That’s been lacking in the game (community involvement) over the past few years.”
Brian Schneider was not too happy with the way he played most of last year. You two talked how its more of a partnership between pitcher and catcher. Can you talk about that partnership in relation to throwing out base runners?
“It’s a team game. We talk about this stuff all time. We are going to challenge Nook (Logan) or anyone who plays centerfield on any day to be prepared. When the catcher throws the ball into centerfield, we see the runner dust himself off and run to the next base. Those are the things we are trying to eliminate. If the centerfielder is aware of it, then DON’T STAND BACK THERE, and expect the throw to be right on the money, or the infielder to block the ball. He should be able to creep in and stop the guy from going to third base and stop Schneider from a throwing error. All that depends a lot on the pitcher, it’s a team effort. The pitcher giving Schneider a chance. And, the centerfielder being able to back up the play and stuff like that. I am anticipating him (Schneider) throwing the ball on the money most times."
You have talked about wanting to steal a little bit more with three guys (Felipe Lopez, Logan, Guzman) and not just stealing just because the crowd wants you to. Was there something you saw on videotape to help them a little bit?
“Its just the fact that we finished on the top in caught stealing, and that just doesn’t make any sense to me. Here, we are just going to identify the guy who should be running. And, let him run. We are not going to be running just to run. So you guys (the press) can say I am aggressive. So, I am aggressive and suicidal Everyone is getting thrown out. We are just going to cut down on that. A few of those things, we cut down on the caught stealing, improve out defense, despite whether we have the pitching or not, those things are going to help us.
“How has Chad Cordero developed since you first saw him in Montreal and then when you were with The Mets. What did they and other teams think of him?
“Well, he doesn’t back down from anybody. Everybody in the league, especially in our division knows what he is going to do. He is going to go right after them. He is a guy that can spot his pitches. And they (hitters) try to hit early on him. And, most of the time, he comes out on top. He does have some quality pitchers that he can spot. Its not like he is throwing the ball right down the middle. No. He is aggressive. They (the hitters) are aggressive. I don’t know how many of you guys know that when Chad came up to the Big Leagues, from A Ball, first outing, bases loaded—Pudge Rodriguez, when he was on fire with The Marlins, right there, this guy (Cordero) showed what he was made of. The guy hit a rocket, but he got him out (to Jamey Carroll at third). (Everyone is the Press Conference breaks out laughing).
Are there any frustrations on hitters part, because Chad is not throwing in the mid 90’s like Ryan Wagner? They believe they can go up and hit him?
“No, because they all know what he has. He’s not one of those guys (hard throwers) Chief, they respect him. Chief’s got a lot of respect around the league. Chief over the past four years has gotten to a point where the guys know that if we are ahead in the 9th, even if he gets in a little jam, he gets it done. So, his name is up there.
Is there another step you feel he needs to take to become a premiere closer?
“I think what you see, is what you get. Over the time, he is probably going to develop another pitch or get better with his current pitches. But, we have seen it. You do not have to be throwing 100MPH to be saving games. Obviously, you would want someone to come on with a man on second and no outs, and strike out two guys before getting the last guy to hit a pop up. But, we are VERY HAPPY with what he does.”
What do you remember of Shawn Hill, back in Montreal, before his surgery?
"Yeah, he came up from Double A that year, and we had him in Spring Training. Don’t forget, back in those days, we were giving a lot of those type guys chances to come up here. He impressed us in a couple of Spring Training outings. He’s a guy that stays down at the knees, throws strikes, and not afraid to show he was not afraid. So, if this kid is healthy again, he can make a contribution here. But, again, nothing is going to be handed out in Spring Training to anyone."
When will Guzman be ready to resume full workouts?
“He will start throwing again tomorrow, after his injection (MRI) heals. We are going to give him a couple of days. And, then we are going to work him in like everyone else. When it comes to hitting, fundamentals and stuff, we are going to monitor him throwing. Because obviously, we really want Cristian Guzman ready for April, not March 1 with him. We are going to be very careful.”
With Ronnie Belliard here, what are your plans for Jose Macias, Tony Womack and some others?
“I have seen those two and Joe Thurston before, and I told them all the same thing. Its going to be up to them. Everyone is going to get a chance to go out there and get a chance. I know they can play, infield, outfield, and run a little bit. But, I can’t take anyone out of the race (for jobs) right now.”
“Thank you, Guys”