Last-place Nationals fire Acta; Riggleman is interim manager

WASHINGTON — Manny Acta is out, and Jim Riggleman is in as the Washington Nationals manager.

The Nationals made the announcement this morning, confirming what took place Sunday night after the team returned from a road trip. Acta was fired with a 26-61 record, the worst in the baseball, and bench coach Riggleman was chosen the interim replacement.

Riggleman has managed the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, compiling a 522-652 record over nine seasons.

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

"We feel that the team has underacheived," acting general manager Mike Rizzo said during a news conference. "We feel we have a better ballclub that has been shown on the field."

Acta thanked the team for giving him a chance.

"It was a great learning experience, I have no regrets," Acta said in a statement released by the team. "As I move forward, I wish the Nationals all the best. I was very fortunate to work with and meet a lot of wonderful people while here."

Acta was 158-252 over 21/2; 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 Mike 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.


AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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