Nats fire manager Acta; Riggleman taking over on interim basis

  • July 13, 2009, 11:29 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- So much for the plan to have Manny Acta's patient optimism lead the Washington Nationals out of the doldrums. The abysmal won-loss record became too much to stomach, costing him his job at the All-Star break and adding another layer of instability to the worst team in baseball.

Acta was fired Sunday night after the team reached the unofficial halfway mark of the season with a 26-61 record, on pace to clear the 100-loss mark for the second consecutive year. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo -- himself an interim placeholder -- confirmed Acta's dismissal Monday morning in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"I thank the Nationals for giving me this opportunity and I'm sorry that things didn't work out as expected," Acta told "It's normal for the manager to pay the price when the team is not doing well."

Bench coach Jim Riggleman will take over as interim manager, has learned. Riggleman has managed the Padres, Cubs and Mariners.

Acta joins Colorado's Clint Hurdle and Arizona's Bob Melvin as major league managers who have been fired this season.

Acta was 158-252 over 2 1/2 seasons in his first managerial job, and the team's winning percentage dropped progressively from Year 1 until now, although his record had much to do with the talent -- or lack thereof -- assembled for him by the front office. The Nationals opened this season without anything close to a reliable bullpen and fielded a lineup with numerous defensive liabilities. For a while, the starting pitching rotation consisted of four rookies and one second-year player.

Not surprisingly, the Nationals' 5.21 ERA is by far the worst in the National League, and their 82 errors are the most in baseball. The team's only All-Star, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, already has 12 errors, and the strain of endless losing began to show among many in the players in the form of fundamental mistakes in the field and at the plate.

Acta, however, remained upbeat, always preaching patience and emphasizing the importance of keeping an even keel -- so much so that some wondered whether he needed to show more fire and perhaps be more critical publicly when his players made mistakes.

Acta's firing is only the latest example of the constant upheaval surrounding the Nationals since president Stan Kasten and local developer Ted Lerner took over the club during the 2006 season -- a sale that was supposed to finally bring a semblance of normalcy to the franchise.

Acta's staff had undergone a complete overhaul already, with every coach except pitching coach Randy St. Claire fired at the end of last season. St. Claire was dismissed at the beginning of June.

Now there is uncertainty on the bench to go along with Rizzo, who took over day-to-day duties shortly after Jim Bowden resigned during spring training.

In 2007, Acta's first season as Frank Robinson's replacement, Washington finished 73-89, fourth in the NL East but a two-win improvement over 2006 and better than was expected. Acta even received votes for NL Manager of the Year.

But the team took a step backward in 2008, going 59-102 for a .366 winning percentage, the worst in the major leagues. And there was even more regression this season -- the Nationals' .299 winning percentage is far lower than any other team.

From the outset of spring training in February, Acta called the current team the most talented he's had, the Nationals started 0-7 and never came close to approaching .500. When the team was hitting well, the pitching was a mess. Once the pitching became serviceable, the hitters suddenly became less productive.

A 5-0 loss at Houston on Sunday was Washington's seventh in 10 games.

When Acta was hired in November 2006, he was 37, and no manager in the majors was younger. He was coming off two seasons as the New York Mets' third-base coach, and before that, Acta held the same job under Robinson from 2002-04, when the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.

Acta had managed eight seasons in the minors and five in the Dominican Winter League, and he led the Dominican Republic to the semifinals at the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

When the Nationals introduced Acta as their new manager, Kasten gushed, "I knew within 30 minutes that this could be the next manager, that he had the right stuff," and then-general manager Bowden brought up Jim Leyland's name, saying Acta was "going to be very special."

Now, less than three full seasons later, Acta is gone.

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