- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

— It’s uncertain for how long, but at least for now, Manny Acta is still the Washington Nationals’ manager.

FoxSports.com reported Saturday afternoon that the Nationals were planning to fire Acta and replace him with bench coach Jim Riggleman in the next several days, but Acta and Riggleman both said before the Nationals’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays that they didn’t know anything about the report.

Acta was laughing and talking with team president Stan Kasten and acting general manager Mike Rizzo before the game. Kasten, in a roundabout way, addressed the report without defusing it.

“I’ve been asked a variation of that question by some media outlet almost every day since the first week of the season. And if I had a policy of talking about personnel, I’d have to do that story every single day, so I don’t,” Kasten said. “Having said that, I can confess to you how perplexed I am by this season, this team and the things that are going on. And our record is real trouble for me, every single today. …

“I’m troubled by everything, and we continue to look for solutions. Have I thought about every possibility? Of course I have - as has Mike, as have our owners. It’s something that, we’re certainly not satisfied with our record. Far from it. We’re distraught over it, and we’re going to continue to consider anything we need to do to make it better.”

Acta is in his third season as Nationals manager, and the organization has continued to support him despite the fact that the team has the worst record in baseball for the second consecutive season.

But his popularity with fans has waned from his first season, when he led the Nationals to a surprising 73-89 record and finished fourth in the NL manager of the year race.

The Nationals retained only pitching coach Randy St. Claire after finishing 59-102 in 2008, and they fired St. Claire on June 2. Acta’s contract includes a team option for 2010, and people close to him have said he’s well-aware he could be fired before the end of the year.

Washington dropped a 4-3 game to the Rays on Friday night, blowing a 3-0 lead after the first inning and falling behind for good after Nick Johnson missed a foul pop-up that extended pinch hitter Gabe Kapler’s at bat. Kapler homered off Ron Villone on the next pitch.

“I think you all watched the game [Friday] night, and you watched us lose a game, and if you listed the reasons for why we lost the game, I don’t think the manager would be anywhere on your list of reasons,” Kasten said. “So it’s hard dealing with that. And yet, we have a record of 16-43, which is, to me, inexplicable. So that’s how I feel.”

Later Saturday, SI.com reported that Acta would be fired as soon as Monday, according to an anonymous National League source.

Willingham on leave

Outfielder Josh Willingham was placed on bereavement leave on Saturday after his brother Jon, 27, died in a car crash in Florence, Ala., early Saturday morning.

A report in the (Florence) Times Daily said Jon Willingham was trying to evade police, who were chasing him for reckless driving and speeding, when his Ford Explorer hit a dirt bank and slammed into a tree.

The Nationals called up Corey Patterson to replace Willingham, and moved reliever Terrell Young to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Patterson on the 40-man roster.

Acta addressed the team Saturday to discuss the news - and to lend some perspective.

“It’s just the time to tell them, ‘Call your brother, call your sister, call your mom and dad. Make sure you tell them that you love them, that you appreciate them, because they can go fast,’ ” Acta said.

Outfielder Adam Dunn said he got a text message at 6 a.m. telling him the news and talked to Willingham on Saturday.

“I think basically, you let him know we’re here for him,” Dunn said. “Whatever they need, don’t hesitate. And I think he knows that. I don’t want to bug him. They’ve got enough going on right now, but he knows if he needs anything, he can call.”

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