Energetic Acta ready to lead Indians
First-year Tribe manager confident team will compete
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- We find Manny Acta on Field No. 2 at the Indians' Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., feeding baseballs into a pitching machine as he oversees a bunting practice involving Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta.
Sizemore struggles through his first round of the drill, but then he puts down a beauty of a bunt near the third-base line his next time up.
"That's the way!" Acta yells. "Tribe baseball! Are you in the Tribe?"
Acta has clearly picked up on the Indians' marketing slogan in his short time at the helm. And now, as his first spring camp with the Indians gives way to the 2010 season, he's hoping this young club continues to give him something to cheer about.
After the bunt drill, Acta sat down with MLB.com to discuss the results of this camp, as well as the challenges that lie ahead for him and the Indians in 2010.
MLB.com: We're at the end of your first camp as manager of the Cleveland Indians. What would you say is the most important thing you, personally, got out of the last six weeks?
Acta: The fact that we were able to play good defense. That's something that we tried to stress from Day 1. That, along with first-pitch strikes. You know, the defense has been consistent the whole camp.
MLB.com: Early in camp, you announced that Sizemore's moving to the No. 2 spot and Asdrubal Cabrera will lead off. From my vantage point, that seemed to send a message that it's not just business as usual with Manny Acta at the helm. What do you like most about the lineup, as it's currently constructed?
Acta: I just love the idea that [Sizemore] is not going to have 150 or 155 [at-bats], as many games as he plays, where it's guaranteed that nobody's going to be in front of him. That's what I like about it. There was no second-guessing on my part at all that if it didn't work in Spring Training that we were going to change our mind. That's the best thing for our club right now, period.
MLB.com: You've said many times that Peralta is a big key for this team, and I know you reached out to him over the winter. He's especially important, given the number of lefties in the lineup. Based on what you've seen here, what are you expecting from Jhonny?
Acta: I'm expecting him to bounce back. I think he's aware of what went on last year with the amount of ground balls he hit and the high percentage of balls that he couldn't put in the air, which translated to a low amount of extra bases for him.
That being said, despite not having Hafner completely healthy and Grady missing two months, Jhonny was able to drive in 83 runs. He might be an easy guy to pick on because of the way he goes about his business, which, at times, unless you know him, comes across a little bit low-key. But he's key to our lineup. He's been good to this club, especially in 2007, when this club was one win away from the World Series.
MLB.com: Seeing Grady and Hafner both healthy, what does that mean to this team?
Acta: It means a lot. They're a huge part of our lineup. Those two guys are probably the two most important hitters in our lineup. The fact that they're healthy now -- they've proven that throughout Spring Training -- and the addition of Choo, who last year showed the kind of player he can be, it's a relief for all of us.
MLB.com: Speaking of a relief, you look at the rotation, and the camp Fausto Carmona's had has been fantastic. At what point should people stop reminding themselves of what's happened the last two years and start being excited about what's happening in Spring Training?
Acta: Well, it's a personal thing. Everybody has their own opinion and should form their own opinion. I just know our fans are very passionate, and they care about their team. We don't want to compare ourselves to other franchises, but it hasn't been as bad here as a lot of people make it out to be. Just a few years ago, we were one win away from the World Series. In 2005, we also had a good year. And this franchise basically was dominant in the mid-90s.
But I understand, everyone wants to win. That's how the world sees things nowadays, being sarcastic and negative. But we choose not to be. I think we do have enough talent here to bring excitement back to Cleveland.
MLB.com: With Fausto, specifically, what are your thoughts on his camp and what that means for the rotation?
Acta: Everything started in winter ball. The fact that he went over there and made the adjustment and moved himself to the left side of the rubber, which gives him a better chance to hit both sides of the plate and keep his sinker in the strike zone. He did that. It was a very small sample, but the walks total went down drastically. Then, throughout Spring Training, he's been doing the same thing. His stuff is there. It's not like this guy lost five miles per hour on his fastball. It's a matter of being around the strike zone. That really hurt him last year, and it's helping him right now, throwing more strikes.
MLB.com: Building off that, what are your thoughts on the rotation now, compared with when you got here?
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Acta: I feel much better. Seeing what Fausto has done and the fact that Jake [Westbrook] has got some pop back [on his fastball]. I saw him in Puerto Rico [in winter ball], and I could tell he was healthy, but he still was lacking a little bit of zip on his fastball. He has shown that now in Spring Training. It gives us a lot of calmness just to know those two guys at the front of our rotation are ready to compete at the end of camp.
MLB.com: The Kerry Wood injury. What does that mean for the bullpen?
Acta: You know, it hurts. It hurts. It really is a bit of a blow for us. But you know, Chris Perez has been wanting to [close] since early in his career. He was groomed at Miami, a good program, as a closer. And hey, the opportunity came quicker for him.
But [losing] Woody hurts. He was our closer, and he helped us set up the whole bullpen in a better way, with everybody dropped down a notch. Now some guys are pitching out of their territory. That's something that's a challenge right now.
MLB.com: I don't think anyone disputes the notion that you guys will score your share of runs this season. But when you look at what you have here and you look at the division, do you feel like you have enough pitching to compete this year?
Acta: We feel we can make a run. Why not? It's a very balanced division. On paper, it looks like the White Sox probably have the deepest rotation. But every team has its strengths and weaknesses. We have a very good offense, I think our defense has improved tremendously, and Jake being healthy and Fausto being back -- not necessarily to the 2007 one, but a lot better than 2008 or 2009 -- I think it gives us a chance.
MLB.com: When you took the Indians job over the Astros job, you cited the depth of talent in the system, the talent coming up the pipeline. You got a first-hand look at that talent for the first time this spring. Who stood out to you, from the Minor League side?
Acta: I think the amount of wins we got early in camp verify that talent. You don't win games just with regulars in Spring Training. Guys like Lonnie Chisenhall and guys like Nick Weglarz and Wes Hodges were really a very important part of what we did here in camp. Also, Josh Judy really opened our eyes. And [Carlos] Carrasco put himself in the battle for one of [the rotation] spots.
MLB.com: Now, I know you don't use Twitter. But I do. So I asked my Twitter followers to submit questions for you. One question that I think speaks to the tone of the year was about your energy and your enthusiasm. How do you impart that on your players and keep a team loose, even when a team goes through some rough spots. How do you keep them enthused?
Acta: They look up to me. So the speed of the leader basically sets the pace for the whole group. That's what we're doing here. I show up every day with the same face, and that will give them some indication that things are OK. I'm able to do it. I think if they see their leader put his head down and show up here with a sad face and looking beat up, then it's going to reflect on them. I'm able to [stay positive]. It's my responsibility. I've done it in the past, and I think I have a very good group of guys here, and it won't be very tough for me to keep them motivated.
MLB.com: This last question is from a reader, and it's a big one. Where do you buy your fedoras?
Acta: [Laughs] Wherever I find the one that I like. All the way from Macy's to Gordo's over there in Cleveland and Burlington Coat Factory. Wherever I can find anything that I like.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.