WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Once again, Milton Bradley has a starting job in the major leagues. This time, he intends to keep it.
With free agent center-fielder Kenny Lofton gone, the Cleveland Indians turned the job over to Bradley. That was the plan as early as last July 31, when Bradley was acquired from the Montreal Expos for minor-league pitcher Zach Day.
"Milton Bradley is our starter in center," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He has to hold the position. He doesn't have to hit a million. He just has to show solid fundamentals and play like he knows how."
Manuel spoke after a 4 1/2-inning intrasquad game in which Bradley was scratched from the lineup just before game time.
"I got a sore shoulder," Bradley said. "I hurt it throwing."
Then he walked away, his disappointment obvious.
Bradley wears his emotions on his sleeve, which sometimes got the switch-hitter in trouble in the minors despite hitting .300 at four different levels between 1997 and 2000.
He opened the 2001 season as the Expos' left-fielder, but batted just .223, argued with umpires and fans and was sent back to the minors.
"I know controlling emotions is important," Bradley said. "It is all about gaining experience, being comfortable in any situation. I think I am ready for it."
Bradley said he does not feel pressure in replacing fan favorite Lofton, who was a key figure in Cleveland's rise to power in the AL Central in the 1990s.
"It's a new age," Bradley said. "It is out with the old and in with the new. I know I can play. I just have to go out and prove it."
Ten years ago, Lofton did exactly that. Acquired in a winter trade, Lofton turned promising potential into stardom.
Now it is Bradley's turn.
"I am very happy here," he said. "It's a different situation. All the players, all the coaches, are focused on winning. I look around and there is a lot I can learn from Ellis (Burks), Jim (Thome) or Travis (Fryman)."
He also can learn from former big-leaguer Al Bumbry, in camp as a baserunning and outfield instructor.
"Milton is a gifted athlete," Bumbry said. "It's how hungry he is to make it that will count. How willing is he to take instruction? From what I've seen, he's very attentive."
Eric Wedge, who managed Bradley at Class AAA Buffalo the last two months of last season, said the speedy outfielder's desire has never been a question.
"If anything, Milton is his own worst critic," Wedge said. "He wants to succeed so much that he has difficulty in accepting even the slightest failure. I've seen him make great progress in that area, though."
Notes: CA Einar Diaz doubled in the only two runs of the intrasquad game, off rookie RHP Martin Vargas. ... OF Alex Escobar was hit in the left arm by a Vargas pitch and left the game, though he insisted he could have kept playing. "If this was even a regular exhibition game, I would have kept him in there," Manuel said. ... Players had some fun at the expense of 3B Travis Fryman. The veteran tripped over first base Monday during drills and went sprawling in the infield dirt amid much laughter. Tuesday, there was a chalk outline of a body similar to that found at a crime scene by the first-base bag. It had Fryman's No. 17 scrawled beside it.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)