CLEVELAND -- Manny Acta is nearing the end of his first month on the job as the Indians' manager. And though the Tribe is still a long way from Acta's first official game at the helm, he's certainly kept himself busy. All but one spot on Acta's coaching staff has been filled (the vacant hitting coach position will be filled by either Triple-A Columbus coach Jon Nunnally or Tribe Minor League field coordinator Dave Hudgens). And when Acta hasn't been interviewing candidates for those positions, he's been reaching out to his players. What Acta has heard from each of them is a familiar theme: The Indians, under former manager Eric Wedge, often finished the season strong, but, just as often, they started it poorly.
That's a trend Acta hopes to change. "Every game is important during the season," Acta said during a lunch with the Tribe's beat reporters Wednesday. "We also have to stress the fact that, even though we're not going to run all of our players out there for seven or eight innings on the first day of Spring Training just to win a ballgame, it is important to leave Spring Training on a positive note." The Indians' pitchers and catchers will report to Goodyear, Ariz., for Spring Training camp on Feb. 21, and the Cactus League slate kicks off March 5. Acta said by the time the Cactus schedule reaches its final 10 days to two weeks, he expects to be giving his regulars consistent playing time. "Most of the veteran guys, you know, through communicating with them, how many at-bats they need to get ready," Acta said. "You build them up at the beginning, but, the last two weeks to 10 days, they should be going out there playing a big amount of innings. There's no such thing as just turning on a switch. You can't lose the last eight or nine games of Spring Training, then just show up in Chicago [on Opening Day] and turn on the switch." That mind-set extends to the manager. These winter days are just as important to Acta as anything he'll experience in Spring Training, which is why he's hit the ground running. In December, Acta will travel to Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to see some of the Tribe players participating in winter ball, including starters Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona. Acta will also gather his completed coaching staff together in Goodyear in mid-January for a series of meetings in which they'll pore over scouting reports in an effort to become better acquainted with the players they are inheriting. Acta said that will also be an important time for the coaches themselves to get to know one another. Having managed in the National League with the Nationals, Acta could have been stepping into a bit of a hazy situation with the Tribe. But after the Nats dismissed him midseason in '09, he made it a point to acquaint himself with all of the big league teams who might be looking for a new skipper this offseason, and the Indians were in that mix. Acta has further mitigated his lack of familiarity with the Tribe by reaching out to his players. In the last few days, he's had face-to-face meetings with Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner here, and he's recently spoken with Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and others over the phone. Acta said the potential pitfalls in taking over a new club have further been offset by the Indians' in-house information system. "They have so much information here," he said. "All the way from the psychological skills program that they have here. It's been a learning process -- not only about stats, but also getting up to speed about personalities." In a whirlwind week of radio and TV appearances and speaking engagements in town, the 40-year-old Acta has had a chance to let his personality show to the Tribe faithful. He's come off as a charming, witty and generally likable character. But Indians fans will like him a lot more if he makes good on his attempt to get the Tribe off to better starts and, ultimately, contend for AL Central titles. Acta knows this, and he also knows he's taking over a club with strict financial limitations that won't make contention any easier. "That's where it gets interesting," he said. "You have to scout better, have a great system, outwork 'em and outsmart 'em, if possible. In baseball, you never know. On any given day, Aaron Laffey can beat Roy Halladay. That's what makes it great." For more tidbits from the Acta interview, visit the CastroTurf blog.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.