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Acta fired by Cleveland

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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."

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Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gio Gonzalez isn’t the type to harp on his accomplishments. After quality outings, he typically deflects praise to his Nationals teammates in postgame interviews when asked to describe his personal performance.

But as much as he tends to downplay, earning his career 100th win in Friday's victory over the Colorado Rockies clearly meant something to him. 

“I’m just happy it came,” Gonzalez said. “I finally showed up and I’m happy I did it here with this organization. Oakland gave me an opportunity and Washington helped me continue that opportunity and I couldn’t be happier to do it with these colors and represent the Washington Nationals.”

The feat came after two no-decisions in his previous two starts, so the third time proved to be the charm. After the game, he had a gathering of family and friends waiting outside the Nats’ clubhouse to congratulate him, some holding gold “100” balloons and others wearing hats featuring the oft-used Twitter emoji of the same number.

“I'm sure it was [on his mind],” manager Dusty Baker said. “…He didn’t want to come out of this game. He was going to get it eventually and we needed it.”

The 30-year-old left hander accomplished the milestone thanks to six innings of two-run ball on just 85 pitches against the hard-hitting Rockies lineup. Gonzalez displayed a lot of what his skipper wanted to see from him: a low pitch count, avoiding the big inning and, as he did later in the game, deliver shutdown frames immediately after the Nats offense scores.

“He threw great tonight," added Bryce Harper. Kept a very good Rockies lineup off balance and did what he needed to do. Stuck with his approach and threw like Gio knows how. Huge for him, that hundredth win. Couldn't be happier for him and his family.”

Historic achievement aside, Gonzalez has quietly turned his season around after a rough patch. In his last nine outings, he’s 5-1 with a 3.20 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. His resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time, as he’s charged with stabilizing the back-end of a rotation that’s in flux due to injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross.

“That's the key to his success,” Baker said. “Not getting runners on base or not walking people and he had a very good game tonight, excellent game. His last couple games, few games have been good. I'm just glad we were able to get him his 100th victory.”

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Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats ride Gonzalez, bats to 8-5 victory over the Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals have quickly gotten the sour taste of their recent four-game skid out of their mouths.

Thanks to a resurgent offense and a quality start by Gio Gonzalez, Washington got back on track with Friday’s 8-2 win over the Rockies, the Nats’ second win in as many days.

True to form, the power-laden lineup didn’t take long to strike. Jayson Werth launched a solo home run, his second in as many days and his 18th of the season, to put Washington up 1-0 in the first inning, and scored again in the third on an RBI groundout by Daniel Murphy.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, the Nats wouldn’t create breathing room until the middle innings. The Nats took a lead they wouldn’t surrender when they scored two runs on a Jose Lobaton fielder’s choice in the fourth inning, followed by a Murphy solo home run in the fifth to make it 4-2.

From there, the game was blown open in the seventh inning thanks to a four-spot that was highlighted by an RBI double by Werth and a two-run triple by Bryce Harper that nearly left the ballpark.

The Rockies closed the gap to 8-5 on a Nick Hundley three-run home run in the ninth off Shawn Kelley, so Dusty Baker turned to Mark Melancon to notch the final out and secure the victory.  

What it means: The Nats have won back to back games and have raised their record to 75-53. Pending the result of the Miami Marlins game, Washington could be up nine games in the NL East by the end of the night.

Gonzalez notches win No. 100: The lefty starter wasn’t dominant by any means, but he did what Baker wanted him to do: keep his pitch count down and avoid the big inning. Gonzalez allowed two earned runs on four hits over six innings and 85 pitches, and limited the damage every time the Rockies were threatening. He could have easily gone deeper in the game, but Baker opted to pinch hit for him when the Nats had two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth. Regardless, the performance was good enough to earn Gonzalez the 100th victory of his career. 

Murphy’s milestone: With his 25th home run of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot, Murphy notched his 500th career RBI. It’s a remarkable achievement considering that he currently has 98 RBI on the season, which means roughly a fifth of the runs he’s driven in have come in 2016.

Bryce back? Don’t look now, but Harper is looking very much like the reigning NL MVP these days. He added two more extra-base hits Friday night, including his first triple of the season, and is now hitting an even .400 since his return from a neck injury. His season average has suddenly risen to .254, and with the way he’s going, could get to .260 by the end of the weekend.

Up next: The middle game of this three-game set will take place Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. as the Nats send A.J. Cole (0-1, 5.14 ERA) to oppose Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07 ERA).

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Frank Howard on Ring of Honor, Bryce Harper and a potential Nats World Series

Frank Howard on Ring of Honor, Bryce Harper and a potential Nats World Series

Friday night wasn't the first time the Nationals paid tribute to Senators slugger Frank Howard. After all, it’s his likeness that is featured in one of the few statues outside of Nats Park. 

But it wasn't until a recent change in the team’s Ring of Honor criteria — which now allows for any pre-Nats/Expos D.C. great to be inducted — that Howard became eligible for recognition by the franchise.  

 “It’s a real thrill for me, it really is,” said Howard, 80, before Friday’s game against the Colorado Rockies. “It’s nice when somebody says ‘Welcome to the Ring of Honor.’”

For many longtime D.C. sports fans, Howard is one of the few vestiges of the city’s last baseball team before a 34-year gap without the game. He had his best years as a member of the Senators from 1965 to 1971, hitting 237 home runs — the most any player representing D.C. has ever hit.

On Friday, Howard didn’t delve too much into his past, instead praising the current state of D.C.’s baseball team.

“They’re not a young organization anymore,” Howard said of the Nats. “They wanted to create their own image and they should. They’ve done a beautiful job, from top to bottom.”

Howard’s impact on the game went beyond the nation’s capital. Nats manager Dusty Baker said that when he was growing up, his brother would emulate Howard, who began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“As a kid, his name was big Frank Howard, or ‘Hondo.’,” Baker recalled. “We’re playing games in the back yard and my brother was Frank Howard, and I was Tommy Davis.”

Baker would get to meet and interact with Howard over the years, calling him “the most gentle giant of a man I know.” Howard returned the favor with a few compliments of his own.  

“Dusty Baker is a quality big league player, quality big league manager,” he said. "Knows the game from A to Z and back to Z to A. He’s been very successful.”

And of course, talking to any D.C. baseball great means getting their opinion on the reigning NL MVP, Bryce Harper.

“He haven’t even begun to scratch the surface,” Howard said of the 23-year-old right fielder. “His next 10 years should be dynamite years.”

As great as Howard was for the Senators, the teams he played for in D.C. were rarely considered World Series contenders. This Nats club, on the other hand, represents a perennial threat to win it all, something Howard hopes the team will make good on someday. 

“I think it’d be great for the area,” he said. “We’ve got great fans here, and to give them a world championship ball club would be a real thrill.”