- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — At some point in the next couple of days, Manny Acta will call several veteran ballplayers into his office, sit them down and explain why they won’t be in the starting lineup for Sunday night’s opener at Nationals Park.

Some of those players surely won’t be happy to find out they’re going to be on the bench. But chances are they won’t be upset at the man who delivers the news.

Acta simply commands too much respect inside the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, and the caring manner in which he informs his players of such decisions is a significant reason for that.

Truthful. Honest. Straightforward. That’s what Manny is, general manager Jim Bowden said. And that’s the only way you can be.

Acta’s pedigree as a field manager hasn’t really been established yet. He hasn’t been in a position to try to orchestrate a pitching staff through a pennant race or to have to make a double switch in the 11th inning of a game in late October.

But in his first year as a major league manager, Acta did have plenty of opportunities to establish his off-the-field pedigree. And by all accounts, he was highly successful in that aspect of his job.

There are few managers in the majors better at communicating than Acta, who has established himself in that area. Whether dealing with media members, front-office officials, fans, sponsors or his players, the 39-year-old skipper seems to have a natural gift for dealing with others.

Which comes in handy when it comes time to deliver bad news.

A good portion of Acta’s spring was spent doing that, with each of the 51 players in camp who were cut called into the manager’s office for a face-to-face meeting. The final round of those meetings took place yesterday afternoon following a 10-2 exhibition loss to the Atlanta Braves as the Nationals pared their roster down to the requisite 25 for Opening Night.

But there are still several more meetings coming with those players who did make the cut. Acta must explain to some veterans why they weren’t selected for a starting job and now must accept a spot on Washington’s bench.

It’s a very important part of the job, the manager said. The X’s and O’s, I think, most of the people can deal with that. It’s going through those 40-something players in camp that you have to send down and you have to release. How are you going to talk to these guys?

It’s not an enviable position to be in, especially if Acta (as expected) has to tell veterans like Dmitri Young and Felipe Lopez (starters for most of their careers) they won’t be in the lineup Sunday night.

But Acta seems to have a knack for it, in part because he understands how to treat each player as an individual case. Some players might need a swift kick in the pants to get a message across. Others might need to be coddled and told everything’s going to be OK.

I think his ability to handle multiple kinds of personalities is one of his strong suits, third base coach Tim Tolman said.

Acta also has something else going for him: his background.

I think it really helps, in our day and age, that’s he completely bilingual, Tolman said. Not to separate the Latin players from the other side, but he knows about their culture and background just as well as what the guys in the United States did to get here. I think that’s a huge advantage.

Acta, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, has plenty of experience delivering messages to his players from all walks of life. He spent eight years managing in the Houston Astros’ minor league system, several more managing winter ball clubs and in 2006 was in charge of the All-Star-laden Dominican team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.

His honesty was on display again yesterday when Acta summoned Ryan Langerhans and Pete Orr separately into his office and informed each he was being sent to the minors.

Sitting at his locker afterward, Langerhans still couldn’t find a negative thing to say about his now ex-manager.

He treats you with respect, and he’s straightforward, he said. You appreciate him treating you like a man and not like you’re just another piece of the puzzle. He treats everybody like an individual and like their own respected man.

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