WASHINGTON (AP) – Manny Acta was hired by the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, making him the youngest manager in the major leagues at 37-years-old.

The 37-year-old Acta, a coach with the New York Mets the past two years, replaces 71-year-old Frank Robinson, who was told during the final week of the season that he wouldn’t be back.

The Nationals went 71-91 in 2006, finishing in last place in the NL East for the third consecutive season. New ownership, led by team president Stan Kasten, is overseeing an overhaul of the team in hopes of being competitive when Washington’s new stadium opens in 2008.

Acta will lead what could be an inexperienced roster next season, although he does know some Nationals veterans: He worked as Robinson’s third-base coach with the Montreal Expos from 2002-04, before the franchise moved to Washington.

Acta agreed to a two-year contract with two club options.

While Robinson was a Hall of Fame player who hit 586 homers, then managed in the majors for 16 seasons, Acta’s playing days ended in the minors and this is his first job as a big league manager.

“Frank was more of an old-school guy. We’re going to have to wait and see how it’s going to be with Manny,” said Nationals catcher Brian Schneider, a member of the Expos during Acta’s tenure. “He’s young. He’s motivated. He’s waited to do this for a long time. He knows the game of baseball.”

Said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman: “You go from a guy who has 50-something years in the game to a guy who’s just started. It’s going to be quite a different feel, but I think Manny will do just fine.”

Acta has managed in the minors and in the Dominican Winter League, and he led the Dominican Republic to the semifinals at the World Baseball Classic this year.

During that tournament, Acta benched a struggling Alfonso Soriano – the All-Star who hit 46 homers and stole 41 bases for the Nationals in 2006 and has filed for free agency.

Washington interviewed several managerial candidates, with varying degrees of experience; Lou Piniella and Joe Girardi both said they withdrew from consideration.

Acta played six seasons of minor league baseball in the Houston Astros’ organization before becoming a coach in Class-A in 1992. That began a climb, first through the minors, then the majors, culminating in Tuesday’s announcement.

“He seems like a great guy that knows a whole lot about the game,” Zimmerman said. “I think he’ll be a great fit. He’s young and energetic. He’s really excited to have this job.”

The Nationals are the sixth team to hire a new manager this offseason, and the fourth to go with someone without previous managing experience in the majors.

There’s still one opening, with the Oakland Athletics. Acta was to interview with the A’s last weekend, but he pulled himself out of the running Friday.

AP-ES-11-14-06 1602EST

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