Notes: With full squad, Acta sets tone
Skipper establishes rules on first day with position players
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals manager Manny Acta had his second team meeting in less than a week. Only this time, the position players were also in attendance.
Acta showed the team an article that predicted the Nationals would finish in fifth place in 2007. He told his players to ignore the negative talk. Acta reiterated that the team will have a positive attitude and believes it will be competitive.
After a few minutes of talking, Acta, 38, excused the pitchers and catchers and talked to the rest of the position players. Acta felt there was no need for the pitchers and catchers to hear what he already said last week, and he wanted to give the pitchers a chance to work in the bullpen.
"I did not want to repeat myself," Acta said. "I wanted to cover some of the stuff the pitchers had no business hearing, like how we finished dead last in defense and first in caught stealing -- stuff we want to get better at."
Acta also went over the dress code and how the music should be played in the clubhouse. No earrings are allowed on the field and players cannot wear their hats backwards, but they are allowed to wear jeans as long as they have a sport coat, decent shirt and shoes on the road.
Acta also told his players to play the music softly in the clubhouse before games, but they can blast it after a victory.
"As far as the music thing, I don't want Austin Kearns to force his country music on Beltran Perez, and I don't want Beltran Perez to force his merengue on Austin Kearns," Acta said. "We don't need to have that loud music all the time."
The Nationals then had their first full-squad workouts, and Acta was very active. He was hitting fungoes and participating in infield drills. He was seen giving tips to Ryan Zimmerman on how to cover third base on a bunt play and telling his players to never rush the throw on a bunt.
"I'm too young to be standing on the sidelines," Acta said. "Also, this is my first job. I have to make sure that things are done the way I want it done. I do trust my coaching staff. I'm lucky that [general manager] Jim Bowden and the Nationals allowed me to bring the people I wanted to bring over here. Still, I need to be there and make sure that things are done the way they need to be done."
Right-hander John Patterson said seeing Acta work on the field motivated the players even more. He said the last manager he saw working with the players on the field was Don Wakamatsu when both were in the Diamondbacks organization.
"That is something new, isn't it?" Patterson said. "It brings a lot of energy. I think it put smiles on everybody's face. When your manager is working with you, it inspires you to work even harder. When you have a manager like that, it doesn't feel like a player/coach relationship. It feels like you are all out there together. I think it's really going to help bring this team together."
Injury report: Shortstop Cristian Guzman had an MRI exam on Monday on his right shoulder and it revealed that he has tendinitis, but the condition is not considered serious.
Guzman, who missed all of the 2006 season because of surgery on the shoulder, reported to camp on Sunday saying that that the joint was not 100 percent.
Dr. Benjamin Shaffer, the Nationals' physician and orthopedist, said he hopes that Guzman can start throwing from 60 feet by Friday. Schaffer would not predict if Guzman would be ready to play in the first exhibition game on March 2 against the Dodgers.
"The shoulder is structurally sound, and the slap lesion that was repaired has healed," Shaffer said.
Guzman acknowledged that he was a little disappointed, but feels that he'll be ready for Opening Day against the Marlins.
"It's a little frustrating, but I think everything will be OK," Guzman said.
Welcome to Viera: Second baseman Ronnie Belliard arrived at Space Coast Stadium at 2:30 p.m. ET. Belliard had his suitcase and Cardinals bag with him when he was greeted by reporters in the lobby. His arrival comes two days after signing a one-year Minor League contract with the Nationals.
Belliard, however, dodged the question about St. Louis resident George Edwards trying to extort money from him. The St. Louis Post Dispatch said that Edwards tried to get $150,000 from Belliard in order to keep quiet about an extramarital affair Belliard allegedly had with his daughter.
"I just got here," Belliard said after arriving from the Dominican Republic. "Maybe later on, you ask me that same question, I will give you an answer. I just got off the plane and had a 45-minute drive."
Belliard is familiar with Acta. The two worked together for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Winter League, with Acta as the manager and Belliard as the everyday third baseman. It was Acta who told the new member of the Nationals that he would back up Zimmerman and second baseman Felipe Lopez. Belliard said he could also play shortstop when needed.
"I talked to Manny," Belliard said. "I can play third, short and second. I will help the team do anything. I know the deal. That's why I came down."
Belliard is coming off a season in which he hit a combined .272 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs with Cleveland and St. Louis. He was instrumental in the Cardinals' postseason run to the World Series. Belliard made $4 million last season.
It is believed that he was looking for a three-year deal, but Belliard found himself on the free-agent market until Sunday. If he makes the team, Belliard will earn $750,000 and could make more with incentives.
"I was surprised [about not signing sooner], but, hey, this is baseball and I want to play baseball," he said. "It's a young team. I know Manny Acta, I know [Jose] Rijo. I know a lot of guys in here."
Tiger response: Manager Jim Leyland was not happy to hear Dmitri Young say that the Tigers did not stand by him during his troubled season in 2006.
On Monday, Young said the Tigers should not have given him his unconditional release last September. He said he was solid citizen prior to 2006 and that the Tigers should have stood by him. Young was hitting .250 with seven home runs and 23 RBIs at the time of his release.
"Dmitri Young was not an asset to our ballclub on the field last year, and he also needed to take care of some very important issues for the welfare of Dmitri Young," Leyland told reporters on Tuesday. "And you can hold me totally responsible for the dismissal of Dmitri Young. Don't put it on the organization. Don't put it on anybody else. I did not feel that Dmitri's performance on the field was an asset to this organization, and it broke my heart.
"We wanted a left-handed hitter all year. Dmitri Young was a guy that I was counting on. The part that upsets me is this guy missed a lot of the season taking care of a problem that he created, not that the Tigers created. So [his comments are] very disappointing to me."
Arbitration matters: Closer Chad Cordero had his arbitration hearing on Tuesday afternoon. Cordero is looking for a $4.15 million payday, while Washington is offering him $3.65 million. The verdict most likely will not be announced until Wednesday.
Welcome back: Third baseman Tony Batista, who was invited to Spring Training last week, said he returned to the Nationals organization because he remembered how well he was treated when he was a member of the Expos in 2004. That year, he hit .241 with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs.
'They gave me an opportunity to come back to the United States," he said. "I want a lot of people to see me so I can make it to the Major League level."
Batista played with the Twins last season, but was released in June. He went back to the Dominican Republic and played winter ball.
Quote of the day: "Let's be honest: I'm pretty popular and nice right now. In a few days, I know some guys are going to change their opinion about me." -- Acta
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