February 25, 2002 at 8:05 PM EST - Updated July 27 at 6:59 PM
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Ricky Gutierrez has the burden of following one of the greatest players in Cleveland Indians history -- and must learn a new position to do it.
Gutierrez was signed to a three-year contract as a free agent in December to replace traded 12-time All-Star Roberto Alomar at second base. Gutierrez, however, is a career shortstop who has played only 27 games in the majors at second base, the last in 1997.
"Nobody can fill the shoes of Roberto Alomar," Gutierrez said after working out at his new position Monday at the Indians' spring training camp. "I can just do the best I can and play like Ricky Gutierrez."
Gutierrez set career highs of a .290 average and 66 RBIs for the Chicago Cubs in 2001, when he also hit 10 homers and scored 76 runs.
"At first, it was kind of tough to think about moving positions, especially after the year I had in Chicago," Gutierrez said. "I'm excited by the challenge though.
"The biggest changes are in the throwing angles and in the double-play pivot. I get more comfortable every day. I thought today was my best so far."
Manager Charlie Manuel took notice.
"Ricky moves good," he said. "He has what I call light feet. We worked on double plays Sunday for the first time. Sometimes he was fine, other times his footwork was messed up. Today, he looked better."
Others have tried the switch and failed -- like Shawon Dunston, the strong-armed veteran shortstop signed by Cleveland to play second in the pre-Alomar era in 1998. He never got comfortable and was dealt in mid-season.
Gutierrez is not totally foreign to second base, though. He played there in the minors in the early 1990s.
"The big thing right now is turning right to make a throw to the shortstop covering second," he said. "That seems a little strange because the last few years when I got the ball, I just automatically opened my left side to make the throw."
Gutierrez will not be called upon to take over Alomar's No. 3 spot in the batting order, but is expected to contribute offensively.
"I've watched Ricky in batting practice and he's got some sock in his bat," Manuel said. "He might hit sixth or seventh in the order sometimes, but we know he's a good No. 2 hitter. I want to see everybody hit some and then decide."
Gutierrez hit 21 of his 34 career homers the last two seasons, but also tied for the major-league lead in sacrifice bunts in each of those years.
"If I help my team win in some way, then I go home happy," Gutierrez said. "I want to do anything to win. Doing little things, bunting, moving the runners over, you do enough of them they add up to big wins."
Notes: Each of the 30 pitchers in camp are expected to work one inning each in intrasquad games the next two days. ... Manuel said left-hander Chuck Finley will start Thursday when the Indians open exhibition play against Minnesota.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)