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Improving defense big priority for Acta

Improving defense big priority for Acta

PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals took infield practice Sunday -- the first time this season they've taken infield on the road. The impulse, certainly, is to look at the extra practice as a punitive measure, or an attempt shore up the league's worst defense. But Nationals manager Manny Acta waved that off.

"We're not going to be on the field [for batting practice before Sunday's game], and we've been playing bad defense," said Acta, noting that Washington takes infield at home every day. "Maybe whatever we've been doing at home is not enough. But I don't think taking infield on the road here and there is going to fix it. We're doing it [Sunday] to get ready for the game.

"Taking infield has gone away over the years. Guys get more work in batting practice, taking ground balls."

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In fairness, a Major League infield drill involves just four grounders and four throws at each position. It seems unlikely that catching four balls and making four throws will make a dent in the Nats' defensive shortcomings.

Still, Acta gathered the players around him before they took infield Sunday, and surely seemed as if bearing down on catching the ball is a big priority for this staff. Acta insists the coaches have been drilling the players all year and are working with them as hard as ever, and that the players are putting forth the effort. But this is, at key areas, a shaky defensive team.

"We're just playing bad defense,'' Acta said. "The four guys leading the team in errors are the four guys leading the team in offense, too. The guy with the most errors on the team is an outfielder; I don't think you've ever seen that. But, look, when we signed Adam Dunn, you know that here and there, he's going to have some rough times in the outfield. But I know he's trying hard. And you take that when you take the 40 home runs and and the 100-something RBIs.''

On Sunday, the Nationals did not make an error, although in the fourth inning, Anderson Hernandez couldn't turn what seemed to be a makeable double play and allowed Raul Ibanez to score the Phillies' third run. With a staff that is next-to-last in the league in strikeouts, the Nats see a lot of balls put in play. They're deficient, but Acta insists the players aren't letting down in the field.

"That's not who we are, and not what's going on here,'' Acta said. "We're dead last in pitching, and we're dead last in defense. You're not going to win too many games that way. But it's not about being complacent, and it's not about me turning this desk over. You've got to pitch and catch the ball."

Pitching matchup
WSH: RHP Craig Stammen (0-1, 5.56 ERA)
Stammen, making his second career start Tuesday, lasted five innings and gave up three runs on seven hits his last time out. It was in the second inning when, with two outs, Ramon Martinez doubled to right to score Omir Santos for the first run. The Mets added two runs in the next inning. Fernando Tatis and Fernando Martinez drove in a run with a hit and groundout, respectively. Stammen said his pitching mechanics were off and he had problems throwing his sinker for strikes.

SF: RHP Tim Lincecum (4-1, 3.03 ERA)
Lincecum pitched like the ace he is Tuesday, throwing eight scoreless innings against the Braves. He allowed just five hits while striking out eight, leaving him just one short of 500 for his career. The diminutive right-hander has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of his 10 starts this season. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA all-time against the Nationals.

Tidbits
With Mike MacDougal joining the bullpen, Washington now has five relievers who weren't with the team when Spring Training games began. ... With eight pitchers in the 'pen, the team has a move to make when Elijah Dukes rejoins the Nats on Tuesday. ... Josh Willingham has nine homers this season -- all solo shots.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• MASN HD

On radio
• WFED 1500, SBN 1390 (Español), ESPN 730 (Sp.)

Up next
• Wednesday: Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann, 2-2, 6.07) vs. Giants (Randy Johnson, 4-4, 5.71), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Nationals (Ross Detwiler, 0-1, 4.80) vs. Giants (Matt Cain, 6-1, 2.31), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Friday: Nationals (Shairon Martis, 5-1, 5.62) vs. Mets (TBD), 7:05 p.m. ET

Kevin Roberts is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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