- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

Manny Acta finally will get a few days off with the All-Star Game taking place in San Francisco. The rookie manager plans to stay around town with his family, visit museums and generally relax.

The 38-year-old Dominican has dealt with his share of challenges this season, including an epidemic of injuries that forced him to revamp his entire rotation. The Nationals take a 36-52 record into the four-day hiatus.

Acta was asked to evaluate his performance over the first half of the season.

“I don’t [self-evaluate],” said Acta, who spent the previous five seasons as the infield coach for Montreal and the New York Mets. “I just try to make my team better, and I think it has gotten better.”

The minor league managing veteran, who last was the top man in the Dominican Winter League in 2004 — excluding his stint as manager of the Dominican team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic — has kept an even keel in his first stint in the big leagues. He said things have been pretty much as he expected — with one exception.

“I think the amount of injuries we have had here has surprised me a little bit,” Acta said. “Other than that, the job is the same. It is more of communication and trying to make everybody feel important.”

Rotation set

Jason Bergmann will start the first game after the All-Star break on Friday when the Nationals visit Florida to face Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins. Bergmann will be followed by Matt Chico and Jason Simontacchi.

Mike Bacsik is scheduled to start July 16 when Washington opens a seven-game homestand against Houston. Tim Redding is slated to start the second game against the Astros, but it likely will be his last turn in the rotation before Micah Bowie returns from inflammation in his left hip.

Bowie is the tentative starter July 22 against Colorado. The left-hander has been on the disabled list retroactive to June 28. Washington had hoped to have Bowie back immediately after the break.

“We don’t know,” Acta said. “He is going to do some throwing down in Florida during the All-Star break. We’ll see. A lot of things can happen in eight days, but it doesn’t seem like he is going to be able to make it.”

Simmering Simontacchi

One Nationals pitcher feeling good about his recent work is Simontacchi. The right-hander had perhaps the best performance of his comeback season Saturday night against Milwaukee, giving up three runs — all solo homers — in six innings while leading the Nationals to a 5-4 win.

Simontacchi, 33, who had not pitched in the major leagues since 2004 and required surgery on his pitching shoulder in 2005, leads the team in wins with a 6-6 record and has a somewhat misleading 6.11 ERA.

“He had the best stuff he had all year, regardless of those three home runs,” Acta said. “From inning one after he gave up [the first two] home runs, I talked to [catcher Brian] Schneider about that. He was throwing as hard as he has all year with a very sharp breaking ball.”

Simontacchi even showed a rare moment of excitement when he pumped his fist after center fielder Ryan Langerhans’ catch in the sixth helped the Nationals maintain the lead.

“I don’t like to show emotion on the mound,” said Simontacchi, who topped out his fastball at 93 mph. “I keep my composure and don’t let anybody feed off anything. But that was huge play for us. Mentally and physically, everything put the momentum back on our side.”

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