Monday, March 30, 2009

Today's Conference Call (The Conclusion) With Manny Acta

The final 10 Minutes of Today's Conference Call with local media and bloggers consisted of Our Manager Manny Acta fielding eight questions about the projected 2009 Lineup for Our Washington Nationals. Of note were queries on Lastings Milledge as projected leadoff man and protecting young arms Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis from overuse so early in their burgeoning Major League careers.

With that, here we go with the final chapter of Today's Conference Call, concluding with Manny Acta.

Question: Why are you confident this season will turn out better than last?

“We are excited about our club. It’s a better club than what we had here the last two years. Obviously, the addition of Adam Dunn gives us a legit hitter in the middle of the order that we haven’t had here over the last few years. Also, we have (Josh) Willingham, (Scott) Olsen, (Daniel) Cabrera—those are people that have made our team better in the off-season. We didn’t have to show up here in spring training and try to find three or four, or five starters. We came into camp with three guys already penciled into our rotation. So that is good news.”

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your thinking as far as the outfield goes? The number of outfielders you have out there and who you think is going to be playing a lot?

“Nice try, but I am not going to give up yet the three outfielders that are going to play. I know that the guys are competing. We have an abundance of outfielders and we like what we have—at least we have options now. If a guy or two goes down, we still feel we still have a quality outfield to put out there. As things stand right now, we have (Adam) Dunn in leftfield, (Lastings) Milledge is going to play center and we have (Elijah) Dukes and (Austin) Kearns competing in right. And Willingham is also competing for playing time. None of these guys are trying to break Cal Ripken Jr.’s record of Consecutive Games. So, I will be able to get them in there and rotate them and give them some at-bats.”

Follow-up Question: Do you feel like this a positive thing for this club?

“Yes I do. I think those guys have played every day and are not probably going to be as happy about not playing every day. But when it comes down to our club, it gives us depth we didn’t have in the past. We are not going to have to be reaching down to AAA to be able to put guys in the outfield, or try to develop kids that are not ready to play at the Big League Level. We now give the Front Office the chance to make a deal if it is the right one for us.”

Question: How difficult was last year for you? And how can you make sure that doesn’t carry over, the frustration in your players, carry over this year?

“It’s not going to carry over at all because those guys understand. We’ve had a great camp. The guys are healthy and I think if three or four or five guys had gone down in spring training right away, it would have probably brought the same feeling we had last year. Knock on wood, it’s been good. And also, we can feel it. It was tough (last year). I am not going to say it wasn’t tough to have a year like that. But I took the positive out of it, which was being able to develop (Jesus) Flores, (John) Lannan; give playing time to Dukes and (Collin) Balester—give him some outings up here. Once we realized how difficult the year was going to be for us, it was all about developing a few of our younger players. We felt those guys made some strides.”

Question: How do you see Adam Dunn on the positive side, On Base Percentage, Power, as it relates to his negative side—fielding and the strikeouts?

“I am not the biggest guy when it comes down to batting average. Obviously, if you do have a good batting average, and you have some walks, the combination is going to be outstanding. I like him (Dunn). He understands and he knows that he is better than a .240 hitter. We talked about that. It’s been discussed and he knows it and he understands that. He’s totally committed to not letting that happen again. Those strikeouts, at times, I would rather have him strike out than ground into a double play. But when you are a guy like him, with the power that he has, those strikeouts are going to be there. There are only a few guys in the Big Leagues that hit 40 Plus Home Runs and end up with 70, 80, low 100 strikeouts. Albert Pujols might be one of those guys (as well). You have to take the good with the bad and the good thing about Adam Dunn is that despite striking out a lot, he walks over 100 times too. So that makes up for some of those strikeouts. We value his slugging and On Base Percentage.”

Question: I have a question about Lastings and leadoff role. I am curious to know whether this is the best available option from your standpoint? And is this the opportunity to maybe give Lastings a real role and responsibility for the first time in his Major League Career?

“I think he is our best option right now. His tools are suited to do that type of thing. Also, the decision was made based on whether it was him or (Cristian) Guzman because I really didn’t want to put that much weight on Anderson Hernandez’s shoulders on his first everyday job in The Big Leagues. I would rather have Guzman hitting second because Lastings can run in front of him and Guzman has the ability to hit the ball through the hole from the left side. Rather than having Lastings running in front of Ryan Zimmerman—which I am not too thrilled to see at times. I would rather have Zimmerman just swing the bat because he is a doubles machine that can drive him in from first base easy. Not taking a chance of giving up an out with Zimmerman at the plate. Also, with Guzman behind him (Milledge), you can hit and run a little bit, so that is the reason. I think he is our best option right now.”

Follow-up Question: But it doesn’t bother you that Guzman is pretty much a free swinger?

“It doesn’t bother me because I’ve known that for the last 10 years. That’s one of the very reasons why he doesn’t make the best leadoff guy because he pretty much has to have a year like last year, where he is going to be hitting .320 most of the season, just to have an On Base Percentage over .345. The fact that he is the contact hitter that he is helps him hitting second in the lineup.”

Question: Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann are basically very young guys. How many innings do you think you are going to get out of them?

“Some of those guys, especially (Jordan) Zimmermann, are going to have a limit. Obviously not being able to go too far over 100. He threw about 140 innings last year in the Minor Leagues. Hopefully, he’s going to have a limit. You know what, we will get there once he goes past that 130 or 140 innings. Then, we will start thinking about that. Martis pitched more innings than him (Zimmermann). We will make that decision at the end of the season. If they are doing well, we are not going to blow any of these guys’ arms. We are not going to push that to the limit, unless by the end of the season we are fighting for a playoff spot and Zimmermann continues to throw the ball well. But we are not going to jeopardize these guys’ careers. We have this pretty much planned out like we did with Lannan in his first season.”

Positive as always, that final answer by Our Manager Manny Acta concluded Today's Conference Call with local media and bloggers in the greater Washington, DC, Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia areas. Honestly, I wish Our Washington Nationals would have this type of forum on a regular basis, giving those that cover DC's team in that more unique way--better availability in finding answers to our questions.

No comments: