CLEVELAND – Manny Acta stopped himself in mid-sentence, closed his fist and knocked three times on top of his wooden office desk.
As he gave updates on injured stars Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana, Acta wasn't taking any chances.
He's superstitious — and smart.
One season managing the Indians has taught Acta to cover all his bases.
With a challenging first year in Cleveland dwindling to its final days, Acta, hired last October, spent part of the pregame before Wednesday's home-season ending doubleheader against Detroit reviewing what happened to the Indians in 2010 and what lies ahead.
"I'm excited about this franchise," said Acta, who spent two-plus seasons in a similar rebuilding project in Washington before he was fired last season after 87 games. "The challenge is to turn it around."
Injuries, always the unknown variable for any team, were especially tough on Acta's club in 2010. Sizemore, the Indians' full-speed-ahead center fielder hurt his left knee and underwent microfracture surgery. Santana, a free-swinging catcher who made an immediate impact in Cleveland's power-deprived lineup upon arrival, tore a knee ligament in a home-plate collision.
There were other bumps and bruises along the way.
Those two, though, left the biggest marks.
"This is a club that just can't absorb those type of injuries," Acta said. "When you talk about the Cleveland Indians, I think the whole world thinks about Grady Sizemore. We're not the type of team that can just have somebody get hurt and plug in a guy that hit 35 home runs two years ago or go out and get a guy.
"It really hurt us."
Sizemore is expected to make a full recovery and has been rehabbing in Arizona. Santana, too, anticipates being 100 percent for spring training camp. He began the season at Triple-A Columbus, but was crushing minor league pitchers and the Indians called him up in June.
Santana hit .260 with six homers and 22 RBIs in 46 games, providing a small taste of his scary potential.
"I don't think I've ever seen a player come up from the minor leagues and impact a lineup the way Carlos did," Acta said.
Without Sizemore at the top of the order or Santana in the middle, the Indians' lost their punch. Only Shin-Soo Choo, one of baseball's most underrated players, put any fear into opposing pitchers. Acta longs for the day he can pencil all three names onto his lineup card.
"Just imagine having Grady hitting in front of Choo, and having a guy like Carlos hitting behind him the whole season that's what I'm excited about," Acta said. "I can't wait for them to rehab and hopefully they'll be 100 percent and we can keep them out there."
The key injuries combined with a flurry of trades involving pitchers Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood, third baseman Jhonny Peralta and others by Cleveland's front office, reshaped the Indians and contributed to another season ending well short of the playoffs.
Acta knew what he was signing up for when he accepted the Cleveland job.
With a limited payroll, a young, unproven roster and a fan base demanding a return to recent glory days, getting the Indians back on top was going to take patience and persistence. Acta is in it for the long haul — or as long as it takes.
He has yet to manage a winning major league team, but that hasn't diminished his drive.
"Everybody wants to win," said Acta, who went 158-252 with the Nationals. "I don't enjoy losing. We all have to understand what our job is. I want to win every single day. Every year I managed, I've had to prove everybody wrong with rebuilding ballclubs."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland can appreciate what Acta has had to endure this season. Leyland was with some brutal Pittsburgh teams in the 1980s that eventually blossomed.
"I like him a lot," Leyland said of Acta. "I think he's doing fine. I've been through those situations, so I know. I've been down that road. I know what that's like. If you get a little time and get some good players, he'll be fine."
If there is any positive in the rash of injuries, it's that it gave the Indians a chance to see some young players who would have otherwise spent the season in the minors. Michael Brantley, Trevor Crowe and Jason Donald were a few of the youngsters who benefited from the turnover.
Cleveland's pitching staff, a major concern entering the season, wound up being one of the team's strengths. Starter Fausto Carmona bounced back to have a solid year and Chris Perez developed into one of the AL's best closers after assuming Wood's job.
Acta wouldn't make any excuses for his players, but he believes first baseman Matt LaPorta deserves a "Mulligan" after undergoing to two surgeries in the offseason. He's also convinced designated hitter Travis Hafner can find more power now that he's another year removed from shoulder surgery.
The Indians need to improve their middle defense and upgrade other problems areas Acta will address in upcoming meetings with Chris Antonetti, who is taking over as general manager when Mark Shapiro moves into his new role as team president.
Acta knows Cleveland's limits and his own. He won't push either.
"I can't lie to people and say we're going to go out there and sign three free agents that are going to make $15 million a year," he said. "That's not going to happen. Our best chance here is to draft, develop our players and make as few mistakes as we can so we can put a core together like it was done here starting in 2003. That's a reality."