CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona was not surprised by the Boston Red Sox’s reported hiring of Carl Willis as their new pitching coach. He always felt Willis would land another big league job.
“Not this quick,” he joked.
Willis, a pitching coach with a long Major League track record, opened the season as the pitching coach for Triple-A Columbus. But Francona knew it was only a matter of time until Willis was back helping a Major League club.
“I think we all felt like we probably were the recipient of a break,” Francona said. “He’s a major league pitching coach. I thought it was really cool the way he handled (coaching at Triple-A). Carl all spring felt like it was an opportunity and he treated it that way. And he made a lot of people better.”
Willis, in addition to his big league pitching career, spent seven seasons as the pitching coach of the Indians from 2003-2009 and four more as the Seattle Mariners’ pitching coach from 2010-2013. Three of the pitchers he coached, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, won AL Cy Young Awards.
After spending a season as a special assistant for Cleveland in 2014, he was hired as the Clippers’ pitching coach.
With Willis on his way to Boston, which is expected to be officially announced by the Red Sox on Sunday, the Indians have some decisions to make regarding the pitching coach position at Columbus.
“It will be a little interesting for us now for a while, mixing and matching,” Francona said. “Fortunately we have guys like Belch (Tim Belcher) and Nags (Charles Nagy) and Ruben (Niebla).”
Belcher will serve as the Clippers’ pitching coach for the next two days. Then, Julio Rangel, a lower level pitching coordinator, will join Columbus until the Indians map out a plan for the rest of the season.
Gomes update — There is no new timetable on catcher Yan Gomes (knee), but the Tribe’s catcher continues to ramp up his activities prior to games. On Saturday, while wearing a brace on his right knee, he was practicing throws down to second base from behind the plate.
“He’s flying through it (his rehab) and continues to do nothing but progress, but we have to let him progress still,” Francona said. “He still has to kind of hit certain milestones, whether it’s squatting or starting to run the bases, or squatting and coming out and getting the bunt. He has to do all of those in a progression.
Gomes is expected to add even more activities to his rehab early next week.
Nonverbals — One of the messages the Indians try to deliver to their players — and perhaps, their pitchers in particular — is the importance of conveying the right body language while on the field.
“We talk about that stuff all the time because we think it’s important,” Francona said. “Sometimes you allow a team to know how you feel. That’s not just here, that’s everywhere, myself included.”
Trevor Bauer was once a big violator of displaying his emotions on his sleeve. At times, his visible frustration would lead to umpires believing it was directed at them. While he is still guilty of some poor body language on occasion, the team believes he is getting better.
“I actually think his body language is improved if you go back and look at two years ago to now,” Francona said. “He’s made so many strides.
“Every five days or every six days, they have a chance to make a statement. I know they gear up for that game so much. Whether our pitches are old, young, or in between. I think we’re just trying to be as consistent as we can and give ourselves the best chance to win.”
No common theme — The Tribe’s starters have not been as sharp of late, but Francona does not see one common theme holding back the club’s starting pitching.
“I don’t think there ever is (one thing),” he said. “I understand that the rotation has had some struggles. But when (Corey) Kluber’s pitching, that doesn’t have anything to do with (Danny) Salazar. It’s a different game, different series, different opponent, different day… I do think you can build off momentum, but if somebody hangs a breaking ball, it doesn’t mean next guy is going to.”
Bruce Chen, who is known for his positive attitude and outlook, will make his Indians debut and start for Cleveland on Saturday.
“It’s very refreshing,” Francona said of how Chen handles himself. “Sometimes we all need a little refresher.”