While the move has not yet been made official, Willis will take over as the pitching coach for the Red Sox, who parted ways with Juan Nieves on Thursday. That left an immediate void on Cleveland's Triple-A coaching staff, but the Indians were not about to stand in Willis' way for the big league job with Boston.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti indicated that Tim Belcher (pitching coach for the Indians from 2010-11 and currently a special assistant to baseball operations) will handle the pitching coach duties for Columbus for the next couple days. Julio Rangel, who is Cleveland's lower-level pitching coordinator, will then take over until the Indians formulate a plan for the remainder of the season.
Francona added that Charles Nagy (special assistant to player development) and Ruben Niebla (Minor League pitching coordinator) might be added to a rotation of pitching coaches to assist at Triple-A.
"Fortunately, we have some really good people around that can kind of pick up the slack," Francona said. "I don't know how many places have a Nagy and a Belcher kind of sitting there. So, I think we're OK."
Willis served as the Indians' Major League pitching coach from 2003-09 and held the same role with the Mariners from 2010-13. He rejoined Cleveland's organization as a special assistant to baseball operations in 2014 before moving into the pitching coach role for Triple-A Columbus this season.
"I think we all felt like we probably were the recipient of a break," Francona said of having Willis at Triple-A. "By that I mean he's a Major League pitching coach. I thought it was really cool, the way he handled [going to Columbus]. ... Carl all spring felt like it was an opportunity and he treated it that way. He made a lot of people better. I think we all knew that he's a Major League pitching coach.
"And the situation [with Boston] arose and I think it's difficult. It puts [Antonetti] in a tough spot. But, I know that finally, when push comes to shove, he's never going to deny somebody [an opportunity], because I know how he feels."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.