Monday, June 22, 2009
17 Minutes With Manny Acta
The Most Charismatic Of Men also met with the bloggers on hand in the interview room at Nationals Park on Saturday, June 20th. And hopefully some meeting him for the first time came to realize, Manny Acta has a presence that fills the room. He's thoughtful, caring and always willing to reach out, share information--be helpful. Originally allotted just 12 Minutes for Q & A, Our Number 14 hung around for 17 Minutes and really didn't want to finish. Even though the Beat Writers were waiting for their usual 4PM Availability, Manny had more to say and told The African Queen and I he wanted to talk more about his managing. What others have said about him. He wanted his say, unfiltered, but time would not allow.
Too Bad. No Doubt He Would Have Been Good. Always Has Been. Always Will. This is the exact reason why Manny Acta should remain as Manager of Our Washington Nationals. It's not just because he's on board with helping to build Our Franchise from the bottom up, it's also because he understands the game better than some have criticized him for over the past few months. He just doesn't have the complete parts to make everything happen.
With that--here we go with 17 Minutes With Manny Acta.
Question: Manny it’s a three game win streak, the longest of the season so far. Can you say there is anything going right these past few games as compared to earlier in the season?
“I think there are a few things that have gone right in these past three games. Recently, our starters have been pitching well for a while now. Our young pitchers, the kids, I think we played some terrific defense those first two games in Yankee Stadium that we won. And this one yesterday (Friday, June 19th) we were able, despite not playing good defense, we were finally able to come up with a big hit in extra innings and snap that 0-8 record we had in extra-innings. But those kids have been very consistent for the last month or so. And hopefully we can click in the rest of our games.”
Question: In the past you have had a pretty quick hook with your starting pitchers as compared to other managers. Looking back to 2007, the bullpen was great; the starters were a weak spot. This year there are more questions being asked about the bullpen problems. Can you talk about what goes into your thoughts about pulling a pitcher?
“Yeah. The philosophy changes depending on what you have in hand. I think everybody knows that in 2007 we set a record for pitching changes. Obviously, we went to Spring Training and brought in 12 guys to compete for four spots. So we didn’t have the strongest rotation. We also had our bullpen, the back end of it was covered, but the middle guys were still (Pause), AAA Guys, or guys that were sort of projects for us. So we had to do what we had to do back then. What we do is now that we have the young kids and we even started this in 2007, guys that are in their first year in The Big Leagues, younger guys, we try to give them the opportunity to come out of the game on a positive note. It’s not so much about pitch counts. I don’t go about pitch counts so much. You don’t let a guy out there just because he has to throw 100 pitches. So people can say you let him go 100 pitches and gave up 8 or 12 runs? What I try to do is win the ballgame and take into consideration that the kid is really young, give him the opportunity to come out of the game where he can only get a tie or win the ballgame. The younger guys we have in the rotation we have to be very careful with their pitch counts too. If you guys paid attention to (Jordan) Zimmermann’s start over in Tampa, he came out of the game with like 91 or 92 pitches (thrown)."
“Well, we had just skipped him one time because he had some fatigue on his elbow. So obviously you can’t send him out there and throw 120 pitches just because I want him to have 17 wins!! We have to take care of these kids. My main thing is to try to win ballgames. And pitch count, it doesn’t go into my mind at all. (Craig) Stammen had that many pitches the other day at Yankee Stadium, but the kid pitched good enough that I think he deserved to get out of the game--without only a shot at winning the game--and not stay out there a couple of more hitters. And then give up a long ball in that small ballpark and leave with his confidence shot. I can leave a guy out there for 120 pitches; if he is pitching good enough and I think he is going to win me the ballgame. So pitch count to me is just something that is out there. I just want to win the ballgame and if you are pitching well and you have to go 120 you will go out there. If I think guys have seen you three or four times and they are making adjustments on you and you are starting to elevate the ball and I have a guy fresh out of the bullpen—who the hitter has not seen and has a chance of preserving the victory for us—we will do it. And in the past, I think what helped us to go quicker to our bullpen was the fact that we had Saul (Rivera), (Jon) Rauch and (Chad) Cordero. They worked pretty good (together). They used to cover us for about three innings. So that is why in the past, we were a little bit quicker to go to the pen.”
Question: What are you going to do with (Scott) Olsen when he comes back?
“We are going to be serving him into the rotation. He’s going to go one more outing in AAA. He did throw 80-some pitches yesterday (June 19th) but our AAA Coach Staff felt that he’s still not ready to come up here and compete. He needs one more start. He scattered the strike zone a little bit. But he’s going to come in and it’s going to be a tough and unpopular decision because one of those kids is probably going to have to go down to Syracuse. But that is the way the game works and these guys are just going to go to AAA, get some experience and come back up here. I think all of you guys know that at some point there are a few of these kids that are going to be shutdown. Or not completely shutdown, but at least have some type of control in their amounts of innings they are throwing. We did that to John Lannan. I don’t know if you remember we did that to John Lannan two years ago. We are going to continue to do it because these guys are just too important and they are going to be a part of the long-term future here and we have to protect them.”
Question: Manny since you have been here, you have never really had a centerfielder that you can consistently depend on. In the short term, or even long term, is there a solution to this for you?
“Long term we do have (Roger) Bernadina and (Justin) Maxwell). They are our two, right now, bonafide centerfielders. And those are the type of things some people don’t understand. It’s not that anybody here didn’t understand that Lastings (Milledge) or Elijah Dukes are not natural centerfielders, but those were the guys we have here and they are young enough and we felt that could make progress and play centerfield for us. That’s until a guy like Maxwell takes off. Or a guy like Bernadina. Those are our legit centerfielders. That’s what you do when you are rebuilding and you have to go through those growing pains. Unless we go out there two years ago and bring in a legit centerfielder—this is what we had to do. We felt it was better to let Bernadina and Maxwell develop in The Minor Leagues than to have them up here just for the sake they can catch every fly ball--while we could survive with Milledge and Dukes.”
Question: Speaking of Bernadina, how is he doing?
“He’s already walking without those crutches. He looks good but we are just going to have to wait until he has to put pressure on that ankle because all your weight goes on it. We are going to be very cautious with him and see how he can bounce back because he is a guy that counts on speed. And that’s something we are going to have to see if he is going to be able to recuperate 100%.”
Question: Josh Willingham is coming off the bereavement list. What’s the plan for him?
“We are going to give him a couple of days of baseball activity here until he is ready to play. Josh was not over there (attending his brother’s funeral) doing baseball stuff. It was serious stuff and it’s very tough. I know a lot of people like to say ‘it’s like riding on a bicycle’ but it’s not. You just can’t be away from the baseball field for six days and then come in, step in, and face Major League Pitching and be at your best. I am going to take a look at him today, talk to him, and have him take some swings—do some stuff. And if he feels good enough, maybe give him a pinch hit appearance so he can see some pitches today and tomorrow and go from there.”
Question: When you were first hired, one of the things you talked about was for stolen bases to make sense you had to be over 70% in success rate. Last two years, we’ve been more in the low-60’s. What’s going wrong there?
“We just don’t have the guys with that blazing speed to have that success rate. We have to be honest. I told people over and over and over that talk about us not running enough, that if you bring me Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez and Wily Tavares, and Nyjer Morgan in Pittsburgh, I would run you out of the ballpark—because I know those guys will run and they will make it. I am very optimistic, but you have to be realistic too. We just don’t have them here. Most of the guys that can run a little bit on our club, they’ve had green lights since I have been here. That’s the way I manage, I give the guys the green light. But to me it just doesn’t make any sense to be running just so 30,000 people can say he is aggressive while guys are getting thrown out left and right. There are 27 outs (in each game) and they are precious. I know that you guys (bloggers) being involved in doing what you do, you do a lot of research and stuff. But the average guy at home still doesn’t go out of his way to understand that just running into outs is not good. You don’t run to run. You don’t bunt to bunt. You run and you bunt when it makes sense. And that’s the way I do things. I don’t think we have the guys on our ball club for me to not have three or four guys say they can steal 30 or 40 bases—to be honest with you. And so you have to manage accordingly to what you have. And if I had those guys I just mentioned to you—we would probably be going to run crazy. I don’t have them, so I really have to take care of those 27 outs. I really rely on the scouting reports and my stopwatch and when we really have a safe chance to steal, hit and run and stuff. This team this year is different from the one last year offensively. Last year, I couldn’t do pretty much anything when it comes to running. Because last year, if you had Ryan Zimmerman hitting 3rd most of the year and we had Lastings Milledge hitting 4th or Jesus Flores--if say you bunt (Cristian) Guzman and have the guy move over to 2nd base—now they are not going to pitch to Zimmerman. They are just going to walk him and deal with one of the rookie guys. The same thing with the Hit & Run stuff. If you are hit and running Zimmerman or Lastings last year—then those are the only bats that you have in the lineup and you are forcing them to swing the bat at whatever the pitch is. So, it is not only me, I think every manager in The Big Leagues they probably manage according to what they have.”
Question: What’s the latest on Matt Chico?
“Matt Chico is doing very well. He actually pitched well yesterday (June 19th) in A Ball (Hagerstown). And that’s another thing that is looming for us in the future—is that when Chico is ready we are going to have to monitor his innings too. We are going to have to make the decision of whether we are just going to let him keep on pitching this year and get those innings in. Or monitor him better, then allow him to come to spring training (in 2010) camp next year and ready to go. If you ask him, obviously he would want to be here (in Washington). And our goal is to probably have him to be one of those guys late in the year come over and take over for some of these kids we are going to shut down. We do have a good group of guys down there that could probably fit that description—whether that be (Collin) Balester, be Chico if he finishes his rehab and is strong. And (Garrett) Mock who is starting now and throwing the ball well down there (Syracuse). So that is encouraging.”
Question: How about Jesus Flores, when can we expect to see him?
“We really don’t want to put pressure on Flo’ and really don’t want to mention any dates. I think the safest date to see Flores will be September. But if you start dropping dates on him, he might push himself a little bit and we don’t want that. We know how valuable he is to us for not only for this year but also for years to come. So we are not really talking about him coming back. That is why it’s not really out there. We miss him dearly.”
Question: Adam Dunn said earlier he felt you guys are turning the corner. Not his words, but turning the corner, playing better defense and getting better pitching. And you are primed for a good second half. How do you feel about that?
“Well I feel he’s been very positive about that. He does it month to month. He fits into what we preach over here. And it’s not a secret; none of us were anticipating this to happen. Now, let’s be clear on something here. Spring Training is sometimes not the best times to judge different things. For instance, I was talking to some of our beat writers earlier in the week. When you are in Spring Training and our outfielders play five innings or six, and you are winning the ballgame and those guys don’t play the full amount of innings. Then, you take those guys out of the game and then you put Bernadina, and Maxwell and Corey Patterson back there and everybody catches a fly ball and the game is over—you don’t get to see what we have seen this (regular) season--the problem that we have defensively. And that is something where Spring Training is not a good time to judge. But that being said, you can’t throw everybody out there nine innings from day one in Spring Training. I think everybody knows we have had some defensive problems overall. I think if anyone of you guys gets really familiar and comes around, like the beat writers, you would know it’s not because of the lack of work. Because I challenge you to get any team in The Major Leagues to take more infield than we do—work on fundamentals—like we do. But that being said, things have not worked out. And sometimes it goes farther than the work habits. So, we just need to keep working and hopefully we can realign and things can get better. I never anticipated this to happen. Never. If you look at what’s going on, some of the guys haven’t played good defense are suppose to be good defensive players too.”
Final Question: You have seen Ryan Zimmerman for nearly three years now—for more than six months each year. From 2007 to 2009, what is the difference in him, other than just growing up?
“It’s maturity overall. It’s maturity overall in every part of his game. I think even right now when he’s scuffling a little bit at the plate, it’s his patience. When I first got over here in 2007, I talked to Ryan over and over and over how he used to fall into the oppositions plan. They would try to take away his pop (in the bat), his power by trying to throw the ball away. We were playing at RFK (Stadium) where he felt he could still handle it. He’d hit a long fly ball at RFK that was an out. In his defense, the first two years that I was here, he didn't have any fearful guy hitting behind him and protecting him. So he felt a lot of times that he had to do it (alone). Now, he is patient. He walks more. He doesn’t fall so much into the pitcher’s plan and goes the other way on certain counts. Also, when it comes to his personality, he seems to be the same. I have never seen anyone so mature for that age. And that is something we keep talking to him about. If he needs to be more vocal, if he needs to be more in charge of certain things, feel free because I have never been around anyone so young that commands that much respect.”
With that final answer, 17 Minutes With Manny Acta concluded. There was so much more to ask. Sohna and I could have thought of a good five or six more questions for Manny to ponder. Others, I am sure too. Hopefully, a second opportunity will come in August.
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