Indians Lineup Promises To Be Work In Progress

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Now that the team's big hitters are gone, Cleveland Indians manager Charlie Manuel says the starting lineup will be a work in progress all season.

"We're going to change our lineup around more this year," he said Friday. "We've wanted to do it in the past, but it was working the way we had it, so we didn't mess with it."

As spring training opens, Manuel has no idea who will hit first, second or third. The rest of the lineup can't be determined until the top three spots are decided.

"We'll look at a lot of different things in the exhibition games," said Manuel. "I want to look at some combinations to see how things work."

The questions start at the leadoff spot, which was held mostly by Kenny Lofton from 1992 through last season. The Chicago White Sox signed Lofton in the offseason.

Right fielder Matt Lawton, who had a .396 on-base percentage with Minnesota last season, appears to be best suited for the leadoff job.

"I like Lawton there," said Manuel. "He gets on base, has a good average and he stole 29 bases last season."

Shortstop Omar Vizquel and outfielder Brady Anderson are other possibilities, but both appear to have more liabilities than Lawton as a leadoff man.

Vizquel's batting average dropped to .255 last season. He said he would feel comfortable hitting leadoff in about 20 games a season, but thinks there are better candidates for the long haul.

Anderson has been a leadoff man most of his career, but he hit a career-low .202 with Baltimore last season and isn't guaranteed a spot in the everyday lineup.

The No. 2 spot also is unclear. Vizquel has hit there the last several years, but last season's numbers suggest he should hit at the bottom of the order.

"I think Omar's going to bounce back," said Manuel. "I think he can hit between .280 and .300."

Ricky Gutierrez, who batted .290 with the Chicago Cubs last season, is another candidate to hit second. He drove in 66 runs last season and could increase that number by hitting lower in the order.

"He hit second the last two years with Chicago and did a good job, but I want to see how Omar does," said Manuel. "If Omar can hit second, I could move Gutierrez down to sixth or seventh. That would make a difference because he has some pop in his bat."

While Lawton would be a solution for the leadoff spot, he also is a possible pick as the No. 3 hitter.

If Lawton hits first, designated hitter Ellis Burks would hit third. Manuel would prefer to flip-flop Burks and first baseman Jim Thome between the fourth and fifth spots.

Third baseman Travis Fryman and left fielder Russell Branyan will hit fifth, sixth or seventh. The bottom of the order will consist of catcher Einar Diaz, center fielder Milton Bradley and Vizquel, if he doesn't hit second.

With strong hitters such as Lofton, Albert Belle, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Juan Gonzalez in the lineup, making out the Indians' lineup hasn't been a big challenge for the last several seasons. Those anchors are gone, but Manuel doesn't mind.

"I like having flexibility," he said. "We may move guys around from game to game. It will depend on who's hot and how guys match up against pitchers. I like having all these options."

Heavy rains forced the Indians to move Friday's workouts indoors. The hitters and pitchers both worked in the batting cages.

Talk around camp focused on the age of No. 1 starter Bartolo Colon. The Indians have obtained Colon's updated passport and birth certificate, which show his age as 28, from the Dominican Republic.

He turns 29 on May 24.

Colon's age went from 26 to 27 when government officials found a discrepancy between a previous passport and birth certificate when he tried to leave the Dominican Republic to report to camp over the weekend.

"I don't care if he was 17 or 19 when we signed him," said general manager Mark Shapiro. "We're happy he's on this team. It doesn't impact the 2002 Indians."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)