Heaping mounds of praise are coming from everywhere. From Washington, where Nationals general manager Jim Bowden predicted Manny Acta will win National League manager of the year honors. And from cities around the majors, where baseball writers, players and team executives are recognizing the job Acta has done in molding his young team this season.
Will Acta actually be named manager of the year with a club that remains on pace to lose 90 games? Probably not. The Diamondbacks’ Bob Melvin, the Cubs’ Lou Piniella and the Brewers’ Ned Yost all would appear to stand in his way.
But make no mistake: Acta has done a terrific job turning a ballclub that was supposed to be the worst in the majors into a competitive team with a bright future.
He’s done so in large part because of his ability to connect with his players, to remain upbeat even when things aren’t going well and to absorb the pressures of big league managing like a seasoned veteran.
Perhaps overlooked, though, is Acta’s in-game strategy. Over the last five months, he has revealed a thing or two about the way he manages a ballgame.
Here, then, is a primer on Manny Acta the manager:
c He takes care of all his pitchers.
Acta’s rules on pitcher usage are hard and fast. No reliever is allowed to pitch more than three days in a row. Guys coming back from injuries (like Luis Ayala) are limited to back-to-back games.
That’s why top setup men Jon Rauch and Saul Rivera, each among the league leaders in appearances, haven’t displayed serious signs of fatigue. Yes, they have appeared in a bunch of games. But they always get a day off after three in a row, and that helps keep them fresh.
Starting pitchers are watched closely, too. There have been times Shawn Hill or John Lannan or Matt Chico could have gone deeper into games, but Acta doesn’t take any chances. He’s not going to risk injury to a promising, young arm just to try to squeeze out another inning.
c He doesn’t play for one run early in a game.
Acta is not a fan of the sacrifice bunt (unless the pitcher is hitting). If Felipe Lopez leads off the game with a double, Ronnie Belliard won’t be dropping a bunt down the third-base line to advance him.
Acta’s philosophy is simple: Why take the bat out of the hands of one of his best hitters? If Belliard singles or doubles, the Nationals will score their early run anyway, and then they will have a chance for an even bigger inning.
c Defense is a priority late.
He has shown that consistently all season. If the Nationals hold a lead in the seventh inning or beyond, Acta will make defensive substitutions. Robert Fick will replace Dmitri Young at first base. Nook Logan or Ryan Langerhans (before he was sent to the minors) will take over in the outfield.
Yes, Acta is sacrificing offense for defense. But in his mind, he always assumes his bullpen will hold on to the lead and he won’t need Young’s bat to mount a comeback.
It’s all part of the Manny Acta Book on Managing. And for the last five months, it has served him and the Nationals quite well.