Is Manny Acta in trouble? Mark Zuckerman on the manager of the worst team in the majors (so far):
- Throughout the season's first week, Acta preached patience as always. No reason to panic, not this early. The team would be fine. So would its struggling players.
What, then, to make of the Nationals' decision Tuesday to option Lastings Milledge to Class AAA Syracuse? Sending down a young but struggling player who is supposed to be a key building block for the organization after only seven games -- how is that a display of patience?
If anything, it was a reactionary move, one the Nationals felt they had to make both because of Milledge's struggles and because of the overall team's struggles. It was a move supported by many within the organization, according to club sources, but it wasn't necessarily supported by Acta.
Acta is a Milledge guy, has been since their days together in New York. When others rip the outfielder for his play or his personality, Acta defends him. And he did it again Wednesday in discussing the demotion.
"I'm a big fan of Lastings," Acta said. "I think Lastings is going to be a good player. "I'm pulling for him, and I'm anticipating him being back up here and making a contribution."
Others in the organization may not feel the same way. Some, in fact, believe there's a chance Milledge won't return.
Managers and their bosses disagree on roster moves often. But there are growing signs that the Nationals-Acta marriage may not be as strong as it once was.
Several team officials weren't happy when Acta didn't bench Milledge for arriving late to a pre-Opening Day meeting. Some weren't happy with the way he handled his bullpen in Monday's 9-8 loss to Philadelphia. Acta's coaching staff, aside from pitching coach Randy St. Claire, was overhauled during the offseason. The Nationals have shown no inkling of picking up Acta's contract option for next season, leaving him a lame duck in the interim.
I wouldn't read too much into Acta's comments about Milledge. That's what a manager is supposed to say about an obviously talented player who's just taken a big step backwards. Yes, Acta's going to get fired if the Nationals don't win a few games soon. That doesn't have anything to do with what he said about Milledge, and it's got little or nothing to do with how he's handling the bullpen or anything else. Enough losses pile up, and the manager's job simply becomes untenable.
But the Nats aren't there yet. As Pinto points out,
- Milledge isn't the problem. The problem is a pitching staff with a 7.71 ERA. Now, maybe Manny doesn't handle the staff well, but I'd have to say there's not a lot of talent to manage well. The Nats already fired the person responsible for shaping this staff, so maybe Mike Rizzo can get Acta some better arms before they fire him.
A lovely thought, but there aren't a bunch of starting pitchers out there, just waiting for Rizzo to swoop in and deliver them to his beleaguered manager. And what's really scary is that of the Nats' seven games, six have been started by the club's "top three" starters: Daniel Cabrera, John Lannan, and Scott Olsen.
Then again, Lannan and Olsen were actually pretty good last year and Cabrera's not the worst pitcher in the world. On paper, the 2009 Nationals were supposed to win something like 70-75 games. Today, 75 looks like a remote possibility. If nobody panics, though, we shouldn't be shocked by 70.