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December 5, 2006

Manny Acta


Q. I know you haven't managed a game yet, but what has the experience been like since you were named?
MANNY ACTA: New, obviously, overwhelming for the first couple of weeks with all the phone calls and all the work you have to do over the phone and putting together the staff and working and making the team better, even when we're not at Spring Training practice.

Q. Has it hit you that you're the manager of the Nationals?
MANNY ACTA: Yes, it has, despite the amount of messages I got on my cell phone the first couple of days, the rest of the stuff that comes with the job.

Q. Has anything surprised you since you've been here over the last couple days about how the team works, how the front office works, about how this whole operation works?
MANNY ACTA: Yeah, it's my first time here, and just in the room, I never imagined that that's the way it operates. I can't imagine that more deals are not getting done the way these guys work the phone and all the meetings that they have.

Q. Have you been in -- you've been given carte blanche; you can be in on whatever you want to be in on?

Q. What's your sense of what they are trying to accomplish and what they might want to come out of here with?
MANNY ACTA: Sticking with our plan. We're here looking for young pitchers to build for the future. But I think so are the other 29 teams.

Q. How competitive is the National League East going to be next year do you think?
MANNY ACTA: Very. I mean, we all know the Mets. I mean, they keep adding pieces, and the Marlins, they show the rotation full with those good arms, and the Phillies go out there and continue to try to get better. It is going to be very competitive. Atlanta, you know they want to get back at it again. So we've got our work cut out for us, but we're ready to do it.

Q. As optimistic as you are about this season coming up, do you also have to prepare yourself for the possibility that it could be a real struggle? I mean, no one wants to say the 2003 Tigers, but, I mean, you're in a similar position some people would say, and it could be a very, very tough year.
MANNY ACTA: Yeah, but I would rather find out in October at the end of the season. That's not going to cross my mind up until late in the season when I see the reality. I mean, that's the way I am. I'm optimistic. I believe it's 25 against 25 every single day, and I believe my guys can have a good day every single day.

Q. You talked about the plan. What is your own personal plan for the players?
MANNY ACTA: For who?

Q. For the players, your own personal plan.
MANNY ACTA: My personal plan is we're not going to sacrifice the future trying to win a single game when it comes down to a young arm, and we're also going to try to do the best we can to keep the core players that we have for the future in the best position for them to have success to build on.

Q. In that respect is it somewhat like when you managed in the Minor Leagues, that the goals are maybe a little bit --
MANNY ACTA: It's a little different. We are going to try to win every single day. But that being said, if we do have a guy like Chico, who makes the rotation, just for an example, I'm not going to keep him out there for 120, 130 pitches just to try beat certain teams on certain dates.

Q. Going off what Dave said, is it encouraging to know -- a lot of people (Inaudible) end up in the wild card race. Are you encouraged by what the Marlins have done and maybe you guys can do that?
MANNY ACTA: Absolutely. I'm encouraged, also, by the fact that just two years ago this team was 20 games over .500 halfway through the season without Alfonso Soriano just because they had a decent pitching staff, especially starting rotation, and a good bullpen, and they caught the ball.
So we're just trying to get some decent arms out there, get the defense better, which was a big part of the record last year, and try and make a couple of changes here and there to squeeze a few games in the win column.

Q. Did any of the players call you afterward to congratulate you?
MANNY ACTA: Yes. Beltran called me right away, and so did Pedro sent me a message, Reyes and also Delgado.

Q. One of the core guys on this team would be Chad Cordero, who led the majors in saves two years ago. How important do you think he is -- there's a lot of interest in him. You would like to have him on the team next year I would think?
MANNY ACTA: It is very important, a closer. One of the most discouraging things in baseball is win a ballgame for eight innings and lose in one. Even when I was in the Minor Leagues that was one of the biggest deals that I learned from a manager that we had, Bill Verden, told us way back in our meeting, whenever you go, you'd better bring a closer with you because the most discouraging thing is what I just told you, not only for me but for the players, too. If you go out there for eight innings and play hard and are winning the ball game and then in an inning you lose it, it's just tough to swallow, so it's a very important piece of our club.

Q. In watching Chad that first year in Montreal and then in the NL East, what have you liked about him?
MANNY ACTA: Cordero?

Q. Yeah.
MANNY ACTA: He's fearless. He's very consistent, too, when it comes down to his location. I mean, this is a kid that can play big leagues straight from the draft basically, and his first outing was in Miami with the bases loaded to face Pudge Rodriguez. He wasn't intimidated at all. He continued to pitch that way.

Q. Assuming he's back and that the bullpen is what you have right now, how do you see the rest of it lining up? Who are the guys you see setting him up?
MANNY ACTA: I'm hoping that Ayala is going to be 100 percent back where he was two years ago because Luis is one of the premier setup guys in this league when he's healthy, and John Rauch had a breakout season last year. He's finally getting his arm strength back. It's time now because he had that surgery a couple of years ago. Then if we can find a couple of situational lefties. Saul Rivera had a good year, too. I think we're going to be back having a solid bullpen.

Q. Rauch is kind of an interesting guy because he has started in the past and you guys are looking for more starting pitchers now. If he's comfortable in the bullpen, even if you have more of a need in the rotation, would you be hesitant to try to not make that switch or do you have to look at what's better for the whole team?
MANNY ACTA: You always have to look at what's better for the team, but also if a guy is having success at doing something, you really don't want to interrupt that, and he actually -- it looked like last year that he was enjoying what he was doing, and it's a key part of the game, too, because if we end up with a bunch of young arms, I think the middle innings are going to be very important for us.

Q. So at this point you're not thinking of him in terms of starter at all?
MANNY ACTA: Not right now, no.

Q. Have you thought about who could possibly be your top two hitters in the lineup with Soriano gone?
MANNY ACTA: Yeah, is that going to solve your problem of the middle? Is that what you want to know (laughter)? It'll be Lopey and Vidro.

Q. Do you like Vidro as the No. 2 hitter? Do you think that's his best spot?
MANNY ACTA: Yes, he had success doing that in Montreal when we were there. We also have to take a look at what we have, and I think that will be the best spot for him right now because I don't want to put any pressure on Nook yet. I want to try to give Nook a chance to become the player we think he can be, and I'm not going to put any extra pressure on him. I want to put him in a situation where he can have success in the bottom of the lineup.

Q. Last year Frank was hesitant early on not wanting to put too much pressure on Zimmerman and kind of start him down near the end, and by the end of the year he was batting third. Do you see him in that kind of role?
MANNY ACTA: He's already got the pressure on him. He's our best hitter, and he's going to hit third. Zimmerman is special. Zimmerman is a guy like Cordero who showed up in the big leagues right out of the draft after half a season in the Minor Leagues and handled himself like he's been up here for ten years, and that's the way he continued to handle himself, so I see no problem with him being in the middle.

Q. If Vidro had to play first because Nick wasn't ready, is that something that you would feel because he's such a veteran guy, you would feel obliged to sit down with him? Are you okay with this? How would that discussion go? Or could you just do it?
MANNY ACTA: Yeah, I would approach him. The fact that he did play at the end of the season at first base plays into it, and also because I've known Jose for a while and he'll do the best for the team. And also, you know, it would all depend basically on the health of Guzman because you don't want to have two guys out of position. If Guzman is not healthy and we couldn't do anything to move those guys up the middle around the right way, then you'll won't have Guzman at short and then you won't have Vidro at second and have him at first. A lot of those questions are going to be answered in Spring Training with the health of Johnson and Guzman.

Q. If Vidro is on your team, he's playing every day?
MANNY ACTA: Absolutely. I don't see why not. He's got the track record, and despite people considering he had a down year, he did still hit around .290 and get some bases. He was coming back from a knee injury, too. It's two years removed from that. Maybe he'll be back to where he was.

Q. I apologize if you answered this already, but do you have any specific goals for your first season going in?
MANNY ACTA: Yes, I want to play -- I want to shock the world. I want to play over .500 and be playing meaningful games at the end of the season. I just cannot walk into this situation and right off the bat be pencilling myself in last place right away. I don't care what anybody says. I'll find out on September the 30th.

Q. Something I forgot to ask yesterday, you're going to be -- they're going to celebrate your being a manager in the Dominican Republic. I'm just curious, any players going to be there or anything like that?
MANNY ACTA: I'm not anticipating any guys being there, but I have received calls from guys like Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada and guys that have no business calling me for my accomplishments, and that kind of makes me feel good. I'm sure that there's a few of them that just haven't been able to get a hold of my number probably (laughter) to call me, too. That makes me feel good.

Q. How tight is that baseball community in the Dominican?
MANNY ACTA: Very tight.

Q. It sounds like it.
MANNY ACTA: It is very tight. You guys saw it from the Baseball Classic. I mean, you saw a bunch of guys with big-time contracts just running around like little kids and getting along. They do it for the Caribbean Series, too. You saw over the years how Tejada goes out of his way and David Ortiz participates in the Caribbean World Series. They're very tight, those guys.

Q. Why is it like that?
MANNY ACTA: Well, it's a small country. We're only 9 million of us. Most of the players come from two areas, which is the east in San Pedro, and right now the south part of the island where the Vladimirs and Guzman and Liriano and Timo Perez and most of those guys come out of it. You just can't walk 100 meters without seeing a guy that at one point or another has been a ball player. So they're around each other constantly. It's not like you can hide from each other. So that's the reason why.

Q. Do you go back to the Dominican in the winter normally, or is this a special --
MANNY ACTA: I go every year. Actually this is only -- I stopped managing winter ball last year, and before then I used to run winter programs for the Houston Astros and I was working for them, and I have my mom and dad and sisters over there, so I have to go every year.

Q. How many kids in your family?
MANNY ACTA: We're five of us, three girls, and me and my brother Jose.

Q. Where are you in terms of the age? Where do you fit in that?
MANNY ACTA: I'm the oldest.

Q. That's a tough job.
MANNY ACTA: For my mom and dad, not for me.

Q. And the youngest is how old now?
MANNY ACTA: She's like 23, 24, something like that.

Q. You're the only one who's come to the U.S.?
MANNY ACTA: No, my brother is an accountant for Barnes & Noble out of New Jersey.

Q. In the next couple days, you've been in the room, listened to a lot of these conversations. Do you think that you guys will have the same roster when you leave here on Thursday as you do now?
MANNY ACTA: I hope not. I hope we have at least two young arms to add to our roster. At what cost, I don't know.

Q. At this point who are the guys that you think currently on the roster that are in the mix for these basically four spots behind Patterson? Do you think there's 15 guys or is it six or seven for four spots?
MANNY ACTA: I would say it's about -- at least eight guys unless we make a move and get a couple of big-time young arm prospects. Our plan will be probably split some out in Spring Training between two guys and let them battle it out. We have guys there that have pitched in the Major Leagues and had success at times like Tim Redding, Colby Lewis.

Q. You mentioned Tim Redding. Is that one guy you're going to look at real hard?
MANNY ACTA: I think Tim is going to get all the opportunities in the world to make it because of his experience in the big leagues and because last year's numbers in AAA might indicate that he's back on track.

Q. Your relationship with him, did that play a role in you guys signing him?
MANNY ACTA: No. Actually we were very aggressive on the six-year free agent signings, and before I got to an agreement with the Nationals, that big list of guys came out. It was a big list. It was good.

Q. How important is it -- you're going to have a young staff. How important is it for Schneider to really guide these pitchers?
MANNY ACTA: Very important. Schneider is a key piece in our ballclub. It's going to be very important. But I trust him, and not only that, I worked with Randy before, and I'm bringing Rick Aponte who is an expert at dealing with young guys, too. I'm confident that we'll be able to handle that.

Q. How do you think Schneider has done handling pitchers in the past?
MANNY ACTA: Last two years I haven't seen him on an everyday basis. I was pretty impressed the last two seasons that I spent with him in Montreal. If you look at it, I mean, we traded Michael Barrett because of Schneider's ability to handle a pitching staff and to stop a running game. Michael Barrett is an everyday guy, too.

Q. There were several guys on the team the last couple years that kind of privately people with the team kind of wished would maybe stay in better shape, done more in the off season to build themselves up and be better prepared for the long haul of the season. Is that the kind of thing, I don't know if you notice it from the outside, is that something you would want to try to address with them now before you get to Spring Training to make sure the guys are in good shape?
MANNY ACTA: Well, yes, everyone has a conditioning program. Whether you follow it or not is your responsibility and it'll show. I think it would be foolish for guys not to pay attention and see that it is a very exciting time to be part of the Nationals. If you don't take care of yourself and you don't come in and want to be part of the future here, I think it would be foolish because we've got the right plan in place, we're moving into a new stadium, and if you don't want to be part of that, something is wrong, unless some guys have their priorities in other order.

Q. How many current members of this team have you talked to?
MANNY ACTA: Let's see, about ten guys, Patterson, Kearns, Lopez, Vidro, left a message to Cordero, Ayala, Broadway, Schneider, Redding.

Q. Any rhyme or reason as to why these guys?
MANNY ACTA: Zimmerman, too.

Q. Any reason why you chose to call these guys?
MANNY ACTA: Some of them I was familiar with them. Some of them are part of the core players. Some of them the phone number was still hot and working. Some of them I just left messages.

Q. You saw Broadway have a good Spring Training in 2004. What do you think of him now? What does the organization think of him now?
MANNY ACTA: Well, that was one of my first questions when I came over, how is Larry Broadway doing because I had a lasting impression of him when he first came up and worked out and was in Spring Training with us, and I know he had an injury in his knee. Apparently he's back on track, and it is a good opportunity for him, especially -- hopefully Nick is 100 percent, but if not, then Broadway will have a chance to be out there and show us what he can do and maybe fight for it and get a shot.

Q. Last year toward the end of the season that Broadway had played in the outfield in some games. Could you see him playing in the outfield?
MANNY ACTA: I'm going to have to see him. It's just not that easy just to grab a guy from the corner and put him in the outfield. It's a lot easier if it's a middle infielder, a very athletic guy, just give him a glove and hit him fly balls.

Q. What kind of Spring Training do you envision running, like a lot of instruction, really long days, more relaxed? What kind of camp do you think you'll have?
MANNY ACTA: There's going to be a lot of instructions, but it's quality, not quantity. We're just not going to stay out there until the sun goes down going over stuff. But we're going to stress our fundamentals in our defense because the numbers are there; they don't lie. We're going to have to work on that. Instructions are going to be there, but it's quality, not quantity. We're aware of that.
Spring Training is never easy. It becomes repetitious, but we just have to instill into these guys' mind that they have to play better defense than what they played last year and we have to play better mental baseball than what they played last year because if we don't have on the paper the talent that the other teams have, then we just can't afford to be making -- giving outs away and giving extra outs for the opposition. So we're going to have to cut that out.
When we were in Montreal we had two, three core players on the team, and we hung in there. But our three outfielders play very well, and our infielders, they caught the ball whether it was on the carpet or natural grass. Looking at the numbers, that just didn't happen here last year. What was the reason, I don't know, but we're going to try to get back into playing defense, especially at RFK.

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