- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals exercised the first of Manny Acta’s two contract extensions yesterday, ensuring the popular, young manager will remain with the organization through at least 2009.

“We’re very, very pleased with the job he has done here,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “We believe he’s our long-term solution as manager. He might be one of the youngest in the game, but he’s certainly one of the best in the game.”

Acta’s strong standing within the organization has been obvious since the 38-year-old was hired last winter, so there was little element of surprise to yesterday’s announcement. But if nothing else, the move underscores the job the first-time manager did this season in guiding a team that exceeded expectations.

Acta inherited a Nationals team that was roundly expected to lose 100 or more games and appeared headed that way when it opened the season 9-25.

The Nationals played near-.500 ball from that point on. Entering last night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, they were 63-62 since May 11, the seventh-best record in the National League.

“The beginning of the year when things weren’t going well at all, he stayed positive and didn’t call meetings and hit the panic button,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “And sure enough, things turned around for us. He very easily could have called a meeting and [screamed at the players]. But he didn’t do that, and I think that’s one of the better things about him.”

Acta signed a two-year, $900,000 contract upon getting the job in November that included a pair of one-year options. He’s now assured of making $600,000 in 2009, with another option worth $700,000 still pending for 2010.

“I’m looking forward to doing the same thing next year and for years to come,” Acta said. “I’ll stay here as long as they think I’m an asset to the organization.”

Yesterday’s announcement came after the Nationals drew recognition for sweeping the first-place Mets and just days after New York media outlets starting raising speculation the Mets might want to try to bring their former third-base coach back into the fold as manager.

Acta, though, insists the thought never crossed his mind, and Bowden made clear what he would do if another club sought permission to speak to him.

“We’d deny permission,” the general manager said. “He’s our manager.”

Team officials began considering picking up the contract option long before this week’s series at Shea Stadium. Club executives were convinced early on they made the right choice in hiring Acta.

“I think I even had that thought at the beginning of spring training, quite frankly,” owner Mark Lerner said. “The way he brought us on during that first rough stretch in April and helped us turn it on after that, I think I knew it then that we had the right guy. The respect all the players had for him coming out of spring training, for a rookie manager, that’s pretty impressive.”

With Acta now locked up for two more seasons, the Nationals will shift attention to the rest of their coaching staff. Every member’s contract expires at the end of the season, though most (particularly pitching coach Randy St. Claire and bench coach Pat Corrales) appear to be locks to return. The most difficult decision may involve hitting coach Lenny Harris, who was given to the position in midseason, when Mitchell Page left the team for personal reasons.

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