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Callaway instrumental in Tribe's turnaround

Staff's numbers improved during his five years as pitching coach
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Mickey Callaway blew Indians manager Terry Francona away during his interview to be Cleveland's pitching coach five years ago. Francona did not know Callaway previously, but his blend of energy, knowledge and passion made it clear that he was the man for the job.

Callaway never stopped impressing Francona, who began touting his pitching coach over the past few years as a future manager. That future arrived on Monday with the official announcement that the Mets have struck a three-year deal to make Callaway their new manager.

CLEVELAND -- Mickey Callaway blew Indians manager Terry Francona away during his interview to be Cleveland's pitching coach five years ago. Francona did not know Callaway previously, but his blend of energy, knowledge and passion made it clear that he was the man for the job.

Callaway never stopped impressing Francona, who began touting his pitching coach over the past few years as a future manager. That future arrived on Monday with the official announcement that the Mets have struck a three-year deal to make Callaway their new manager.

"He's so good," Francona said during a sit-down with local reporters last week at Progressive Field.

MLB Network Insider Joel Sherman first reported on the decision to hire Callaway.

Now that the move is official, Callaway becomes the second member of Francona's first staff in Cleveland to be hired as a manager elsewhere. Kevin Cash was the bullpen coach under Francona in 2013-14 with the Indians before being hired as the manager for the Rays prior to the '15 season. When Cash left Cleveland, the Indians hired Jason Bere as its new bullpen coach. Bere will likely be considered for Callaway's former position after working with the pitching coach for the past three seasons.

John Farrell, who was recently dismissed from his role as manager of the Red Sox, was the pitching coach under Francona during his time at the helm in Boston from 2007-10. Francona and Farrell remain close friends, but Cleveland will likely look elsewhere to fill its pitching coach vacancy.

Both Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, and Francona declined to comment on Sunday.

Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin, who is the longest-tenured player in the organization and has worked with a handful of different pitching coaches over the years in Cleveland, was not surprised to hear that a team targeted Callaway to manage.

"You could see it from the get-go, just the confidence that he exuded through coaching," Tomlin said on Sunday night. " He kind of has an overall view on how to use a scouting report and use the information that he was given to kind of tailor-make it for each guy on the staff, especially the starting rotation."

Tweet from @MLBastian: Josh Tomlin was asked if he had 2-3 minutes to talk about Mickey Callaway. Forty-five minutes later... https://t.co/7IHjQZNCmC

When Francona came aboard in Cleveland prior to the '13 season, the Indians were coming off a 94-loss campaign in which their pitching staff ranked last in the American League with a 4.79 ERA. Over the next five years with Callaway leading the pitching staff, the Indians reached the postseason three times, won two division titles, captured an AL pennant in '16 and ranked first in the AL in wins (454) and ERA (3.64).

During that five-year stretch, the Indians also led the AL in strikeouts (7,248) and did so on an average of 16.1 pitches per inning (tied for the fewest in the AL).

"That's one thing Mickey harped on," Tomlin said. "Mickey would talk about, 'Do not shy away from contact, because all you guys have good enough stuff to get people out in the strike zone. So, do not shy away from it. Then, you're going to get more 0-1, 1-2 counts where batters are defensive, and you can get them to swing out of the zone eventually.'"

This past season, Cleveland's pitching staff -- led by AL Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber -- set single-season Major League records for strikeouts (1,614), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1) and WAR (31.7, per FanGraphs). The Indians' staff also led MLB in ERA (3.30), FIP (3.33) and strikeout percentage (27.5 percent).

In '13, Callaway was instrumental in helping Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir revive their careers. Under the pitching coach's watch, Kluber went from a virtual unknown to one of the best arms in baseball. Callaway and Cash helped convince Francona to put Carlos Carrasco back in the rotation late in '14 -- a move that helped the pitcher develop into a solid No. 2 starter. Those are only a few examples of the success stories aided by Callaway.

"The first thing that I noticed when the season started our first year was his level of confidence," Francona said. "It seemed to me that it exceeded his experience. Then, as you watch him and you're with him every day, you see that that confidence allowed him to have other voices, and get input from other people, and sift through that and take what he wanted. But my goodness, he had such an impact on the pitching staff." 

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

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