September 30, 2014

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Belcher has work cut out for him as Indians’ new piching coach

CLEVELAND – During his search for Cleveland’s pitching coach, new Indians manager Manny Acta was meeting with general manager Mark Shapiro when Tim Belcher’s name came up for discussion.

After a few minutes, Acta had heard enough. “He said, ‘Why are we going any farther? This is the guy,’” Shapiro said.

Belcher, who has done just about everything but pitch for the Indians, is the first member of Acta’s new staff. The 48-year-old had spent the past eight seasons as a special assistant, instructing, evaluating and scouting players throughout Cleveland’s system.

Now, he’ll coach their best ones.

“I view it as a good opportunity and challenge,” Belcher said Friday.

Belcher replaces Carl Willis, who was let go after seven seasons when the Indians fired manager Eric Wedge and his entire coaching staff last month. Cleveland had its worst season since 1991, a slide that was tied in many ways to the Indians’ pitching problems.

It’s up to Belcher to get them worked out.

The former major leaguer, who won 146 games over a 14-year career with seven teams, is very familiar with Cleveland’s arms. Belcher served as an interim pitching coach at each of Cleveland’s minor-league levels and was an uniformed instructor during spring training. His knowledge of Indians pitchers made him attractive to Acta.

“He has all the intangibles that we were looking for,” said Acta, who is still interviewing candidates to fill the other coaching vacancies. “We wanted to bring in a guy who could right this ship.”

Belcher has turned down other coaching opportunities in the past, but couldn’t resist the chance to accept one about a 90-minute drive from his home in Sparta.

He’s got his work cut with Cleveland’s pitching staff. The Indians’ 5.06 ERA was the second-highest in the AL, while opponents batted .294 against the club’s starters. The Indians are counting on Fausto Carmona to bounce back after a disastrous season and hope Jake Westbrook makes it back from elbow surgery.

Acta said he and Belcher have discussed pitching philosophies and they already share a common belief.

“Pound the strike zone,” Acta said. “Whether your name is Fausto or Zausto, if you’re not missing bats, you better not be walking people.”

Acta said he strongly considered three candidates for the job, but came away convinced Belcher was the best qualified because of his background, preparedness and intellect. “One of his ex-teammates told me that he’s too smart to be a pitching coach,” Acta said.

Belcher has not spent much time with Acta, but he has been impressed with Cleveland’s new manager. Belcher said before accepting the job, he did his research to learn about his new boss.

“I got nothing but rave reviews from anyone I talked to,” he said.

Belcher made 373 starts in the majors before retiring in 2000. He won at least 10 games in nine seasons and in seven of them pitched more than 200 innings. He’s been a workhorse before and isn’t afraid to take on the Indians’ pitching staff, another heavy load.

“I’m challenged by it, but I wouldn’t view it as a daunting task,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do in building trust with some of the new guys and building relationships with them.”

Santana is tops

Carlos Santana was named a Topps/Minor League Player of the Year for the Eastern League. He was also named Eastern League MVP at the end of the season as he led Akron to the Eastern League title.

The 23-year old batted .290 (124-for-428) with 30 doubles, two triples, 23 home runs, 97 RBIs and 91 runs scored in 130 games. He led the league in slugging percentage (.530), OPS (.943) and walks (90), and he  was second in home runs, RBIs and OBP (.413), and was third in runs scored.

His 90 walks were a franchise record. Santana was an Eastern League mid- and postseason all-star and played for the World Team in the Futures Game in St. Louis.