- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HOUSTON — Manny Acta doesn’t shy away from his appreciation for Houston’s baseball franchise.

The Washington Nationals’ manager spent six years as a player in the Astros’ minor league system and 10 years (1992 to 2001) on the franchise’s player-development staff, including eight seasons as a minor league manager.

“I owe everything to the Houston Astros,” Acta said. “The Houston Astros got me out of my little dinky town. They gave me the opportunity to be a minor league player and a minor league coach. Every single day you learn something about the game. Almost everything I know I learned out of their system.”

Acta managed current Astros Roy Oswalt, Adam Everett, Eric Bruntlett, Wandy Rodriguez and Brad Lidge and last night’s Nationals starter, Tim Redding. Redding made 91 appearances over four seasons with Houston, going 21-28.

“It was the easiest job I had there in [Class] A ball,” Acta said with a grin. “I had Tim Redding, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge in my starting rotation.”

Acta’s Nationals defeated Houston in two of three games in a mid-July series at RFK Stadium, marking the first time he faced his old club as a major league manager.

“I appreciate everything they’ve done for me because they are the reason why I’m here,” Acta said.

Jekyll and Hyde

The Nationals face a pitching oddity tonight in Rodriguez, Houston’s starter.

The left-hander enters the game with a home ERA of 1.65 (second lowest in the National League) but gets hammered on the road (7.80). Rodriguez has had 12 starts at home (he’s 6-2) and 12 on the road (1-9).

“We’re not that familiar with Wandy,” Acta said. “Obviously, with him not being not in our division, we just have to watch tapes.”

The team is somewhat aware of Rodriguez’s talents at home, and Acta said his hitters will have to get ahead in the count to try to get him out of his comfort zone.

The Houston starter gave up five hits and four runs (two earned) in five innings in his last start at Los Angeles. In his last game at Minute Maid Park, Rodriguez allowed six hits and one run in seven innings against Milwaukee. He also tossed a complete game shutout against New York in Houston on July 6.

Worrying about those daunting home numbers isn’t something the Nationals have done, outfielder Austin Kearns said.

“It’s just like anyone else,” Kearns said. “You just try to get something started early and get on him.”

The Nationals are winless in four games against Rodriguez as a starter, the most recent May 22, 2006. Washington lost that home game 10-3 as Rodriguez allowed three hits and three runs over six innings.

Extra bases

The Nationals’ lineup with Kearns in center field and newly acquired Wily Mo Pena in right lasted just one day, for now at least.

Acta said Sunday’s positioning was based on RFK Stadium’s large dimensions, and Kearns is more suited for center field in such a situation, Acta said. Kearns was in right field for last night’s game at smaller Minute Maid Park with Pena in left and Ryan Church in center. …

The Nationals might get out of facing Oswalt in this series because the veteran left Saturday’s game after 42/3 innings with a strained left oblique muscle. Oswalt, who is 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA, is listed as day-to-day and could miss his scheduled start Thursday.

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