- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

DENVER | The philosophy for how Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta handles his starting pitchers hasn’t changed, and that’s because Acta says he has never had a concrete approach.

If a pitcher is fresh enough to go deep into a game - and experienced enough to deal with what might happen if his later innings suddenly turn sour - Acta will leave him in. If not, he’ll come out.

So while there’s no doubt the Nationals have starting pitchers working deeper into games this year, it’s less because of a major change and more because Washington has a pair of left-handers who meet Acta’s criteria.

John Lannan went eight innings in Saturday’s win over the Atlanta Braves, the third time this year he has gone at least that long. A day later, Scott Olsen came within one out of a complete game in another win over the Braves.

Those two pitchers, the most veteran members of the Nationals’ staff, have earned some extra trust, and they’ve been efficient enough to get deep into games without escalating their pitch counts.

“That’s a factor, obviously,” Acta said. “I think it’s the same thing that every pitching coach preaches: Pitch to contact, pitch ahead, throw strikes, let your defense do the work. It’s just that a few of those guys have been able to do it lately.”

Olsen’s outing Sunday joined Lannan’s complete game against the Mets on June 6, his 8 1/3-inning gem against the Yankees on June 17 and Shairon Martis’ May 2 complete game against the Cardinals as the four longest by Nationals starting pitchers since Acta became the manager.

For rookies like Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen, though, there’s still a different practice. Acta prefers to keep rookies on a shorter leash until they’ve proved they can be consistent and bounce back from a tough outing; he’ll usually take them out during a good outing while they still have a chance to win or at least get a no-decision.

Stammen’s best outing, for example, came June 18 when he shut out the Yankees for 6 1/3 innings. His pitch count when he came out was 82.

“The only thing that affects my decision is the way the starters are pitching,” Acta said. “If the guy’s pitching well, he can go deeper. If the guy’s not pitching well, he’s going to get out of there, regardless of how our bullpen is.”

Belliard at second again

Ronnie Belliard was in the lineup for the second straight game at second base after going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI on Sunday against the Braves. It’s just the fifth time Belliard has started since the beginning of June and the 15th game in which he has seen action.

“He swung the bat very well [Sunday], and he’s got pretty good numbers against [Rockies starter] Jason Marquis,” Acta said. “I think we need to get him going. If we do get him going, we’re going to be a better ballclub.”

Belliard, hitting .185 this year, entered Monday’s game 5-for-10 lifetime against Marquis with a homer and three RBI.

Wells picks free agency

Reliever Kip Wells, who was designated for assignment June 24, elected for free agency, the Nationals said.

Wells signed a minor league deal in spring training to give the team a veteran in the rotation or the bullpen. He became one of the team’s late-inning options after Joel Hanrahan gave up a grand slam in a 13-11 loss to the Phillies on April 27. But he wound up with a 6.49 ERA in 23 appearances, walking 18 batters in 26 1/3 innings.

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