- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | Another day passed, another game came and went and Manny Acta was still the manager of the Washington Nationals.

Reports that Acta was about to be fired surfaced Saturday but hadn’t come true Sunday as the Nationals left for New York, where they start a three-game series with the Yankees on Tuesday. Afforded a chance to reflect on the season before Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, Acta recalled his comments from spring training that this was the most talented team he has had since becoming the Nationals’ manager in 2007.

“I said this was the most talented team I had - talking about the position players,” he said. “We also knew we were rebuilding a bullpen. We lost our two top guys on the back end - three if you want to include Luis [Ayala] in there. And it is still the best talented team that we had here in three years when it comes down to position players. That being said, we haven’t played the way we were expecting to play, and we’re not going to put the blame on anybody.

“We’re all accountable for what’s going on here.”

New look for lineup

Seeing a rare opportunity to lighten the workload for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman - and the ability to follow it with an off day - Acta put Zimmerman in the lineup somewhere other than his normal position for the first time this season.

Zimmerman had started all 61 games for the Nationals at third base but was the team’s designated hitter Sunday. That’s the closest thing to a day off he’ll get on a game day.

“I never look forward to not having Zimmerman play third base for me,” Acta said. “But if we can take advantage of back-to-back days, we’ll do it.”

Acta started Willie Harris at third base Sunday and also shuffled his outfield to give Corey Patterson a chance to play while he’s up from Class AAA Syracuse with Josh Willingham on bereavement leave. The veteran started in right field.

Bergmann to Syracuse

After Sunday’s game, right-hander Jason Bergmann was told he will be optioned to Class AAA Syracuse. Reliever Kip Wells is set to return from a strained right adductor in time for Tuesday’s game.

Prospect goes juco

The Nationals haven’t signed the phenom they took with the top pick in this year’s draft - pitcher Stephen Strasburg - but there’s already talk about the one they might take if they wind up with the top pick again next year.

Bryce Harper, a 16-year-old catcher who has already been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated for his mammoth home runs and 96 mph fastball, reportedly will enroll at the College of Southern Nevada, a junior college that should give him the ability to enter next year’s draft.

Harper will work toward a GED while taking classes at the junior college. His father, Ron, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal his son “will be draft-eligible in 2010 or 2011. … There are a lot of rules that people don’t know about.”

Harper is being advised by agent Scott Boras, who is handling Strasburg’s negotiations with the Nationals. Washington has the worst record in baseball, 9 1/2 games behind Arizona.

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