Martinez settles in for Indians

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Victor Martinez looked pretty comfortable behind the plate and in Cleveland's batting order on Saturday. So good, in fact, that he may become a permanent fixture both places.

Martinez went 1-for-3 with a double in his season debut, one day after the Indians called him up from Triple-A Buffalo and sent Josh Bard down to the Bisons.

The Indians didn't plan on adding Martinez to the roster until Aug. 1, but his hot bat sped up the timeline by more than a month.

"He's made himself ready to come up," said John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development.

Martinez, who appeared in 12 games with Cleveland last September, was terrorizing pitchers in the International League.

After a slow start, the switch-hitting 24-year-old was batting .328 with seven homers and 45 RBIs.

Before being recalled, he was hitting .437 with 12 doubles, three homers and 22 RBIs in 25 games this month.

"I wasn't thinking about getting called up," he said following Saturday's 5-4 loss to Cincinnati. "My only goal was to play good and see what was going to happen."

The Indians see Martinez as a middle-of-the-diamond star to build around. Although he has played some first base, the club would rather keep Martinez at catcher.

But for all his offensive prowess, Martinez has some defensive deficiencies. He has thrown out just 10 of 72 attempted base stealers and none of his last 33.

However, the Indians think he has been making good progress with his mechanics and game-calling ability.

"We just want him to relax and feel comfortable here," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.

Martinez said he already feels more at home than he did a year ago when he came up for the first time.

"It's like a family for me here," Martinez said. "I know most of the players much better."


NOT GIVING UP ON BARD: Wedge said the Indians still think Bard can have a major part in their future.

"He did a terrific job for us defensively," Wedge said. "He's going to be back. This is for him. If we wanted to be selfish, we would have kept him here."

Bard won't return until he shows the Indians he can be a more consistent hitter.

Before being demoted, he was batting just .228 with 16 RBIs in 60 games. Wedge said part of Bard's problem was that he was placing too much pressure on himself to perform.

"This allows him to go down, relax, keep playing and get his swing together," Wedge said.


SLING SHOTS: At times, Cleveland's clubhouse looks like the waiting room at a doctor's office.

In the past few days, pitchers Jason Bere and Dave Elder and designated hitter Ellis Burks have visited with teammates while wearing slings on their arms as they continue to recover from season-ending surgeries.

Brian Anderson couldn't help but notice.

"There's a lot of slings around here, man," Anderson said surveying the room.

Bere pitched only 6 2-3 innings this season after signing a one-year, $1 million free agent deal in December. Elder, too, was with the Indians briefly.

Burks had two bone spurs removed from his elbow.


MORE ON LEBRON: Some of the Indians were still talking about LeBron James' visit to Jacobs Field on Friday.

James, selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, took pregame batting practice and threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday's series opener.

When James walked into the Indians' clubhouse, players scrambled to get his autograph.

Reliever Jason Boyd, who began serving a three-game suspension Friday, ran out and bought several basketballs that some of the Indians pitchers had James sign.

"It was pretty cool," said infielder Zach Sorensen. "He seems like a good guy."


SPRING FLING: The Indians have not yet decided where they'll have spring training next season.

The club is considering whether to pick up a five-year lease option to stay in Winter Haven, Fla., or move to Port Charlotte, the Texas Rangers' former spring home.

Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio said the team was still having internal discussions but that an announcement would be made soon.


BASELINES: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, C.C. Sabathia's single in the 11th inning last week in Pittsburgh was the first pinch-hit by a Cleveland pitcher since Dick Donovan in 1963. ... As part of celebrating Ohio's bicentennial, teams wearing replica uniforms of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings and Cleveland Forest Citys played an exhibition before Saturday's game.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)