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Acta has patience of Job for job

January 27, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

When Manny Acta has items on his agenda, he doesn't mind waiting for them to be fulfilled.

First, he wanted to be a manager.

After being mentioned for and passed by a few major league jobs in the last few years, Acta was selected by the Washington Nationals in November to replace Frank Robinson. He finally made it after 11 seasons of managing minor league and winter ball and five years of coaching for the Montreal Expos and, most recently, the New York Mets.

Now, Acta wants to be a winning manager. But he knows he will have to remain patient before the wins come.

"I always look to win, but I knew I would have to go somewhere where it was going to be a challenge," Acta said Thursday at the Nationals preseason caravan stop at Hagerstown's Clarion Hotel and Convention Center. "The Yankees and the Red Sox aren't going to be on my doorstep any day soon."

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Acta was a fresh face the Nationals tabbed to help build a fresh future. The only rule is to construct the team for long-term success by using a proven blueprint.

"That is why this job was so attractive for me," Acta said. "It was the plan I said at my interview and it was the perfect plan for me. It's a plan that works and how can you doubt with (Nationals president) Stan Kasten. He helped build the Atlanta Braves and they had won (14) straight division titles. He knows how to do it and do it right."

The overhaul of the Nationals will begin in spring training.

Four of the five spots in the pitching rotation are open.

"Competition is good. I always think competition is good because it brings out the best in human beings," Acta said. "John Patterson will be our No. 1 starter and then we will have 38 pitchers coming to camp. We will have 12 guys who will be competing for the four starting pitching spots. They aren't going to be just guys from off the streets. Three of them had at least 10 wins in the majors last year and we'll be throwing in some of our young arms, too."

On the field, some players will be moved - like former Hagerstown Suns player Felipe Lopez from shortstop to second - to improve the defense.

"Last year, we were last in defense," Acta said. "We will have Cristian Guzman back and he will be going into shortstop, which will allow us to move Lopez to second base, which will give us two shortstops up the middle. And then we have Nook Logan in center field, which is huge. Two years ago, the Nationals were 20 games over .500 two months into the season and it was on pitching and defense."

Offensively, the Nationals will look to fill the void left by the defection of players such as Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen through free agency.

"We don't have to replace them. When we had them, we were in dead last," Acta said. "Ryan Church will be in left field and will be playing most every day, which will give him more opportunities, and we signed Alex Escobar, who will help as long as he stays healthy. Most baseball teams average four-something runs per game. I'm not worried about our offense, but we are going to have to do it the right way. It's not all about offense."

Acta's biggest step toward making Washington a winner probably will be winning the Nationals players over with his enthusiasm and patience.

"I'm out to change the attitude of the players," Acta said. "I want to show them that we might not have superstars, but we can still win.

"I've always said I don't care who I've got, I can beat you even using your guys. I'm not going to stand up here and say I'm going to win 100 games and I'm not going to say we'll lose 100. We won't know that until September, but don't be telling me that I'm going to lose in January."

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