- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

NEW YORK | While manager Manny Acta’s future with the Washington Nationals is slightly less clear than it was at this time last year, when a surprising first season led to the team picking up his 2009 contract option on the season’s last weekend, there’s still no reason to think a disappointing second year will have Acta packing his bags anytime soon.

General manager Jim Bowden praised Acta’s performance in the 2008 season, lauding his attitude while injuries and underperformance by several key veterans have helped Washington to a tie for baseball’s worst record entering Wednesday night’s game against the Mets.

Washington needed one more loss to guarantee it would finish with a worse record than it did in Acta’s first season.

But with all the injuries the Nationals have sustained, Bowden said Acta continues to make him believe things will be different once he has a better team.

“I’m a big supporter of Manny. I think Manny has done an excellent job with this team,” Bowden said. “I told him the stories about when I was with the Pirates and we first hired Jim Leyland. We lost 100 games, and people were questioning, ‘Should he come back?’ When he had the horses, Jim Leyland won. And I believe that when Manny Acta gets the horses, Manny Acta will win.”

Bowden stopped short of guaranteeing Acta would return for a third season, however.

“Stan [Kasten]’s the president. I’m the GM. He’s the manager,” he said. “That’s what it is until we announce something different for any of us.”

Bowden wouldn’t comment on whether the Nationals will pick up Acta’s 2010 option yet this season.

Acta said this year has made him a better manager and that he thinks the front office knows the constraints he has had.

“There’s nothing I would do different,” Acta said. “They didn’t promise me to have a championship club my second year here, and they know what I went through with all our players had a play into it. But I can’t control whatever they think or whatever they want to do.”

Bowden also said the Nationals couldn’t go into next season with Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young - two injury risks slated to make a combined $10.5 million - as their only options at first base.

Johnson hasn’t played since May after the slow healing of a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist led to season-ending surgery, while Young has played just 50 games because of a variety of ailments, perhaps most prominently the battle with diabetes that has kept him out the last two months.

“You hope that players come back from injury, and certainly we believe, based on all the medical and doctor’s reports on both players, there’s good reason to be optimistic that both of them are ready to be healthy next year,” Bowden said. “You can never count on any one player being back. You’ve got to continue to build long-term pieces. That’s what we’re doing.”

Flores still sore

Catcher Jesus Flores, who has been out with a sprained left ankle since Philadelphia’s Chase Utley collided with him Sept. 2, still has some swelling that likely will keep him out at least through the rest of the week.

Flores said he has been stretching and throwing, but he still experiences pain when he tries to throw.

He will start hitting Friday or Saturday. Both he and Acta said Flores could come back as a pinch hitter, but they would prefer to wait until the catcher is completely healthy.

“I don’t want to push myself too much into something that could be worse,” Flores said. “When I put too much weight on it, I still feel that pain.”

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