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Opening Day Butterflies Are Part of Acta's Game

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 2, 2007

Manny Acta told his wife this offseason that he had to be careful when he was driving.

"I haven't become a major league manager until Opening Day comes," Acta said. "If I have a car accident, I'm not going to go down in history as the manager of the Washington Nationals."

Thus, barring any unforeseen traffic mishaps, Acta will become a major league manager for the first time today when his Nationals face the Florida Marlins at RFK Stadium. Because the 38-year-old has been preparing for this day "my whole life," he said he remained calm as the opener approached. But he knows he will have nerves to battle.

"I could probably say it's not going to be a big deal," he said. "But I think it's going to hit me [today]. It has happened even at the lowest levels [of the minors] that I have worked. The first day, Opening Day, you get those butterflies."

With Fredi Gonzalez managing his first game for the Marlins, today's game will mark the first time two Latin American managers made their debut against each other.

Call Him No. 1 Guy, Please

Right-hander John Patterson has never earned an Opening Day start before today, and he will face lefty Dontrelle Willis, the ace of the Marlins' staff. But Acta wants to make clear that his 29-year-old right-hander is not yet an ace.

"How about just being the number one guy because of experience?" Acta said. "That 'ace' word is just not for the guy who pitches number one in every rotation. I mean, an ace is a guy that has the track record, the 20 wins, the three or four seasons of 15 wins."

Patterson's career record is 17-20, and he is coming off a season in which elbow problems limited him to just eight starts. But he said he feels ready to lead a rotation in which he is the most talented player.

"I'm comfortable with it," he said. "But I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I want to make my 30 starts, and if I do that, I know I'll be successful."

Guzman Turns Page

Hitting coach Mitchell Page didn't hold his same position in 2005, when shortstop Cristian Guzman needed a scalding September just to hit .219. But Page knows what he has seen this spring: "I see an all-star caliber player here."

Before you scoff, remember that Guzman was an all-star with Minnesota in 2001, and consider that he hit .413 (19 for 46) this spring. More important to Page, however, is that he came to spring training having made an adjustment to stay back on the ball. Guzman is taking a wider base with his stance and, Page said, isn't lunging at breaking pitches.

"In the past, it looked like he was very vulnerable to the off-speed pitch," Page said. "They knew him, and the old book on him was to throw him a lot of breaking balls. But this spring, he hit breaking balls as well as he hit the fastball."

Page's assessment of Guzman's spring performance: "That was not a fluke."

Staying Behind

General Manager Jim Bowden said reliever Luis Ayala (elbow) and right-hander Jason Simontacchi (groin) would remain at the team's training complex in Viera, Fla., for the foreseeable future. "I would say with all the pitchers we're looking at, anywhere between April 25 and May 5," Bowden said. "Nothing instant." . . . Right-hander Jerome Williams -- who stayed in Viera because his turn in the rotation fell yesterday -- threw 71 pitches in a six-inning outing against the club's Class AA players. He is expected to join the team today, and his first start comes Friday against Arizona. . . . Team President Stan Kasten said that as of yesterday, about 35,000 tickets had been sold for the opener, leaving roughly 10,000 available. . . . The Marlins and Nationals each held light workouts of about an hour yesterday at RFK Stadium.

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