Indians tab Belcher as pitching coach
Ohio native pitched for 14 seasons in Major Leagues
If Tim Belcher was ever going to become a pitching coach, it was going to have to be the right situation for him. It took a long while, but the Indians were the right place, and now was finally the time.
"I always wanted to at some point do this," Belcher said Friday. "There's never going to a more convenient time."
For the Indians and new manager Manny Acta, there wasn't going to be a more fitting selection to handle their talented, but mercurial pitchers.
Acta's first hire for his coaching staff was one of the more logical fits he and the Indians could find. While Belcher provides the background of working with many of Cleveland's young arms as a Minor League and Spring Training instructor for the past eight years, his special assistant role in baseball operations included the responsibility of scouting other Major League teams and working out a game plan for how to approach them.
He combined the skills of instruction and preparation, and he'll bring that to a job that requires a lot of both.
"I think Tim is a unique person who has an intricate knowledge of our organization," Acta said. "He has all the intangibles we were looking for."
Those roles followed a big league career that lasted 14 seasons before Belcher retired following the 2000 season. A Sparta, Ohio, native and former All-American pitcher at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Belcher was a top overall Draft pick before breaking into the Majors in Los Angeles. He earned National League Rookie of the Year honors on the 1988 world championship Dodgers by going 12-6 with a 2.91 ERA, then led the NL in complete games and shutouts the following season.
Though Belcher never pitched for the Indians, he had his opportunity to pitch in Cleveland as a visiting player through stops with Detroit, Seattle, Kansas City and Anaheim. He finished with a 146-140 career record, a 4.16 ERA, nine seasons with double-digit victories and seven 200-inning campaigns. No current Major League pitching coach has more Major League experience than Belcher's 2,442 2/3 big league innings.
Belcher joined the Indians soon after his retirement in the special assistant's role, but others saw coaching eventually in his future.
"I think this job's been a good transitional job for him," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We've always been hopeful with his unique skill set that he would consider a full-time position on the field. It's just that he felt and his family felt that now was the right time."
The interest was mutual. For Belcher, the opportunity to work close to his family was one factor that made this right. So, too, was the chance to work with players he knows.
He also knows the challenge Indians pitchers face to rebound from a vastly disappointing year. Cleveland's 5.06 ERA, 598 walks and 1,570 hits all ranked second-highest in the American League, while only the Orioles had fewer strikeouts than the Indians' 986. Their relievers converted just 25 of 43 save opportunities.
By season's end, the trades that sent Cliff Lee, Rafael Betancourt and Carl Pavano elsewhere left closer Kerry Wood and Tomo Ohka among the few Indians pitchers older than 30. In their place, however, is a young group that includes David Huff, Justin Masterson and the puzzling Fausto Carmona, along with Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey and Carlos Carrasco.
Belcher's task, obviously, will be to get the most out of them. He has worked with a lot of them, either during Spring Training or in his various stints as a fill-in pitching coach across nearly every Minor League level.
"I think his biggest project, which is something he did as a player, is going to be preparing guys on how to attack hitters," Acta said. "It's something he did with the Indians a lot, and it's something he did a lot as a player. He brings a lot of that, not only as a player but as an advance scout."
His emphasis in that regard will be much the same as many of his cohorts: pound the strike zone.
"That's something that all teams deal with," Belcher said. "You have to be able to throw strikes and command the baseball. I'm a big believer that firsts are so important in this game -- first-pitch strikes, successful first innings, retiring the first hitter."
Belcher credited other pitching coaches and former pitchers for helping mold his views, from Bruce Kison years ago to current Padres manager Bud Black near the end of Belcher's pitching career. Belcher said he talked with Kison several times in recent days, in fact, to make sure this was the right decision for him.
Still, he didn't want to overemphasize his role. He has a challenge, he admits, but it's not one he tackles alone.
"I'm not a guru," Belcher cautioned. "I think coaches at all levels and all sports get way too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go wrong. Coaches, I think, are there to facilitate, to provide enough information and timely information for players to get better. I just think you provide good information and timely information, and I think you motivate players to use that information and see if it works. I have a lot of work to do, obviously, building trust and working with the new guys, adding to the trust with the guys who have been around me."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.