Acta fired by Cleveland

899123.png

Acta fired by Cleveland

By TOM WITHERS CLEVELAND (AP) -- One month, one miserable month wiped out almost everything Manny Acta did for three years. "That month just crushed our hopes," Acta said. And cost him his second job as a major league manager. Acta was fired Thursday by the Cleveland Indians, who collapsed from contention with a 5-24 record in August, the worst month in the franchise's 112-year history. Acta, hired in 2009 after two tough seasons in Washington, paid the steepest price for the Indians' stunning slide that dropped them to last place in the AL Central. It certainly wasn't all Acta's fault, but he took the fall. During the club's August meltdown, Acta tried everything he could to turn things around. He changed his starting lineup, called team meetings, altered routines -- all to no avail. Once the Indians began to slip in the standings, there was nothing the 43-year-old Acta could do to stop them. And with six games left in this disappointing season, the Indians, who are just 21-50 in the second half, decided to begin moving forward without Acta. "I had a great three years here," he said on a conference call. "I have no regrets and no bitterness. I gave my best and that's all I can do." Acta went 214-266 in nearly three seasons with the Indians, who were within 3 1-2 games of first on July 26 following a shocking comeback win at home over Detroit ace Justin Verlander. However, they lost the following day and would eventually lose 11 straight games. A season that began with so much hope turned to despair. "My job was to make us better," Acta said. "We didn't get better." General manager Chris Antonetti announced Acta's firing on an off day before the Indians opened their final homestand against Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox. If there is any solace to Acta it's that his final two games were road wins over the second-place White Sox, who are chasing Detroit for the division title. Acta felt he never lost his clubhouse and praised his players for continuing to play hard when the season unraveled. Bench coach Sandy Alomar, a six-time All-Star catcher for the Indians and fan favorite, will replace Acta on an interim basis for the last six games of 2012. Antonetti called Alomar a "primary candidate" to possibly replace Acta as Cleveland's next manager but wouldn't label him the front-runner. The 46-year-old Alomar has been considered for previous openings in Toronto, Boston and with the Chicago Cubs. He would seem to fit perfectly with what the Indians are looking for. "Sandy brings a lot to the table," Antonetti said. "He's obviously been a managerial candidate in other places and I'm confident he will be a primary candidate. Where he will fit among the alternatives, I don't think it's fair for me to speculate at this point." Antonetti would not comment on the possibility former Red Sox manager Terry Francona is on the club's list of candidates. Acta hired Alomar and feels he will be a solid major league manager. "I know Sandy is a very good baseball man," Acta said. "He was very helpful to me over the last three years." Acta laughed when he asked if Alomar should replace him. "If I'm not good enough to be the manager," he said with a chuckle, "don't ask me to be the general manager." Some key decisions by Antonetti that backfired contributed to the Indians' struggles this season, and the GM didn't duck his share of responsibility in Cleveland's collapse. "Manny's not the only one to blame," Antonetti said. "We need to really look hard organizationally at how we can get better, especially at the major league level because our performance was not what we expected and not what we hoped. We have higher expectations and we need to do a better job of identifying some of those solutions." Antonetti said following recent discussions with team president Mark Shapiro and owner Paul Dolan, the decision to dismiss Acta was made Wednesday night. Acta met Antonetti at Progressive Field at 1 p.m. on Thursday. With upcoming player and coaches meetings, Antonetti felt it was unfair to keep Acta around as the team planned ahead. "Those meetings will be forward looking," Antonetti said. "We thought it best, and out of respect for Manny, to allow him to move on." Acta was caught off guard by the news. "I was surprised," he said. "I wasn't expecting it, but when you play the way we played, anything can happen." It didn't help Acta's cause that the Indians had several players underperform while others couldn't stay healthy this season. Former All-Star center fielder Grady Sizemore, who was signed to a one-year, 5 million free-agent contract in November despite missing most of the past three seasons with injuries, never got healthy enough to play. Designated hitter Travis Hafner missed several months with a bad back. And, Antonetti's major acquisition in 2011 of ace Ubaldo Jimenez failed to pay off as the right-hander went 9-17 with a 5.55 ERA. Also, despite the obvious need for a right-handed hitting outfielder, the Indians never signed one and Antonetti was unable to find any external help at the trading deadline. As the losses in August and September mounted. Antonetti realized change was needed. "We always remained hopeful that our play would improve and we would turn things around in the second half," he said. "Unfortunately as the days dwindled, it didn't happen." Acta refused to use an insufficient roster as an excuse for losing. "I'm not going to sit here and point fingers or second guess myself," he said. "I didn't go to the ballpark and wing it. It's a little disappointing when you can't win as often as you want. But that's the game, I guess." Acta believes he has grown following stints with the Nationals and Indians. He's confident another team will give him a chance. "I want to manage again, but right now I want to go home to Florida and be a father, a husband, a son and a brother," he said. "I'll keep my head up and move forward."

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

nats_update_cutinrefframe_1.jpg

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

It's a question I've received numerous times this season on Twitter: are Nationals starters throwing too many pitches this season? The question has been posed so many times that it warrants a closer look. The internet makes all sorts of baseball data available these days and there is plenty out there regarding pitches, both in terms of quality and quantity.

For the Nationals (17-7), it is true that through 24 games this season they are allowing their starters to pitch longer in games than they did last season. But, though their pitch counts are up, there is no evidence to suggest what they are doing is out of the ordinary. 

First, here is a look at how Nationals starters rank by pitches per start:

Max Scherzer - 105.4
Stephen Strasburg - 102
Tanner Roark - 101.4
Joe Ross - 99*
Gio Gonzalez - 98.3

*excluding injury-shortened start on April 20

For Scherzer and Gonzalez, there is not much to see here. Scherzer is second in MLB in pitches thrown, but he's always near the top of the league in that category. He was seventh in total pitches in 2015, third in 2014 and 12th the year before that. 

Scherzer has averaged at least 100 P/GS for each of the last eight seasons. In 2014, his final year in Detroit, Scherzer posted a career-high of 110.2. That's much higher than anyone in the Nats' rotation is currently on track for.

Gonzalez has also logged high pitch counts in the past. He averaged 103.6 P/GS in 2013, his second year with the Nats, and put up a career-high of 106.5 in 2011, his final year in Oakland. Like Scherzer and many other pitchers, he has proven he can take the pounding of a high pitch count.

The rest of the Nats' rotation is up in the P/GS category from their career averages. Strasburg's career average is 92.7 and he's putting up about 10 more per start this season. But his career-high was 96.9 in 2014 and that's not far off from 100.

Roark has never averaged more than 100 before, but did post a career-high of 96.7 in 2014. And Ross has seen a significant increase from the 85.4 P/GS he held last season, but that number was kept in check to limit his workload as a rookie. 

For instance, Ross went six scoreless innings in his final start of 2015, yet was removed after just 77 pitches. His penultimate start saw him throw only 82 pitches despite going seven innings with one run allowed. What he's doing this year is more normal than what he was limited to last season.

The Nationals are letting their starters reach higher pitch counts this season, but not to an extreme degree, at least not yet. Could that change as the season goes on? Sure, teams often allow pitchers to stretch out as the season goes on. For now, though, it doesn't seem to be a real issue in Washington.

Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

natscutinsundayrefframe_1.jpg

Scherzer rebounds as Nats complete sweep of Cardinals

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium: 

How it happened: Apparently all the Nationals and Max Scherzer needed to break out of their early season slump was to play on the road against a team that won 100 games the year before. 

Just like the Nationals' bats did in the two days prior, Scherzer found his groove in St. Louis on Sunday with seven shutout innings and zero walks in his best start of the season. The Nats' lineup got to Cardinals phenom Carlos Martinez late in his outing and Clint Robinson, Danny Espinosa and Chris Heisey homered as the Nats beat St. Louis 6-1 to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007 and their first ever sweep at Busch Stadium.

What it means: The Nats have considerable momentum with a three-game winning streak and a club record 17-7 start as they head to Kansas City to face the Royals. Playing the defending champs looked much more daunting before this weekend than it does now, as the Nats head to K.C. once again looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Scherzer bounces back: Seeing Scherzer turn things around is a very positive sign for the Nationals who were waiting for their ace to fall in line with the rest of their rotation. Scherzer finally overcame his first inning woes to set the tone for a strong start overall. He escaped the first inning without allowing a run for just the second time in six starts this season. He ended up going seven shutout frames with nine strikeouts, zero walks and four hits allowed on 105 pitches. The right-hander dropped his season ERA all the way down to 3.55 as he now turns his attention to the Cubs whom he'll face in his next start at Wrigley Field.

Martinez cracks late: Martinez was locked in from the very first pitch and didn't allow a hit until Scherzer singled (one of his two hits on Sunday) with two outs in the third. Martinez was firing 98 mile per hour heat with a dazzling curveball to complement. The right-hander finally gave up a run in the sixth on a Matt den Dekker single and then served up back-to-back bombs to Robinson and Espinosa in the seventh. It took three times through their order, but the Nats figured out Martinez on this particular day. Espinosa, by the way, has two homers in his last three games.

Harper gets a Golden Sombrero: Mired in his first real slump of the season, Bryce Harper had major trouble against Martinez and the Cardinals. The Nats' slugger went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday and is now hitless in his last 14 at-bats. Harper has just one hit in his last five games (17 ABs) and is now hitting .272 on the season. Harper hasn't struck out four times in a game since he was a rookie on Aug. 21, 2012.

Robinson's homer much-needed: Robinson earned a bench spot out of spring training after a breakout campaign in 2015, but the first baseman has been slow to heat up this season so far. He was just 1-for-21 on the year before his seventh inning homer. The homer, though, could be just what Robinson needs to get going. It was a two-run shot and it came off one of the NL's hottest pitchers.

Up next: The Nationals move on to Kansas City to take on the defending World Series champions in three games at Kauffman Stadium. Monday night is an 8:15 p.m. first pitch with Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) set to start.

Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

nats_update_cutinrefframe_1.jpg

Wilson Ramos returns to Nationals, Severino sent to minors

Catcher Wilson Ramos has returned to the Nationals after spending five days on MLB's bereavement list due to the death of his grandfather Jesus Campos. Catcher Pedro Severino was sent back to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Ramos.

Ramos, 28, returns to the Nats with a .316 average, two homers and eight RBI in 15 games this season. He has the second-best average on the team this season behind second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Ramos left the Nationals on April 26 after hearing of his grandfather's death. The Nationals' lineup struggled initially with Ramos out, but has since recovered to score 11 runs in their first two games at the St. Louis Cardinals. Ramos is not in the lineup Sunday as the Nats aim for a sweep.

Jose Lobaton has been filling in most for Ramos and on Monday Gio Gonzalez is set to pitch. Lobaton has caught Gonzalez exclusively so far this season.

Ramos caught Gonzalez 11 times last season out of 30 total starts. The combo produced a 4.52 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. Gonzalez held a 3.39 mark in 114 innings with Lobaton.

Gio has worked mostly with Lobaton since the catcher was acquired by the Nats before the 2014 season, but has been very good with both catchers in his career. He holds a career 3.25 ERA and .241 BAA with Lobaton and a 3.42 ERA and .247 BAA with Ramos.