Tribe's Prized Prospect Out For Season ... Baez, Wright Look Good - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Tribe's Prized Prospect Out For Season ... Baez, Wright Look Good

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Cleveland Indians outfielder Alex Escobar is out for the season after injuring his left knee while making a catch in an exhibition game.

Escobar, the key player in the trade that sent All-Star Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets, will undergo reconstructive surgery after completely tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, the team said Tuesday.

"This is the worst-case scenario," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We know injuries are part of the game. It is frustrating and disappointing, but we expect him back playing at 100 percent next year."

The 23-year-old got hurt Monday while running into the center-field wall at Bradenton. An MRI showed Escobar tore his ligament and sustained a second-degree sprain of his medial collateral ligament.

"I talked to Alex and he was proud of the catch," Shapiro said. "He said 'It was a great catch.' He has been everything we expected -- a five-tool player with a quick bat, above average arm and speed."

Before getting injured, Escobar was 5 for 10 with two walks and two steals in five exhibition games.

Escobar's injury happened just two days before Alomar is scheduled to play against the Indians for the first time since they traded him to the Mets on Dec. 11.

Escobar was one of five players the Indians got in the deal. He may not have made the club's roster this spring, but Cleveland is counting on big things from him in the future.

"Alex will rehabilitate in Cleveland because we want him to become an integral part of the organization," Shapiro said. "We won't let him get away from baseball. Hopefully, he will be ready to play some winter ball and come to camp next spring as he did this year, with a chance to win a starting job."

Shapiro said the surgery will take place in about two weeks, after swelling around the injury subsides.

Coincidentally, the Indians announced Tuesday that Escobar had signed a one-year contract.

Escobar's injury is just the latest in a rash of setbacks for Cleveland this spring.

Last week, infielder John McDonald underwent an emergency appendectomy and bullpen coach Luis Isaac had 14 inches of his small intestine removed. Also, pitcher Jake Westbrook had elbow surgery and veterans Travis Fryman and Ellis Burks have been slowed by back spasms.

The Indians also signed right-hander Ryan Drese to a one-year contract.

They also released catcher Tim Laker from his major league contract and re-signed him to a minor league deal. Laker has been battling liver and pancreatic ailments during the offseason and has yet to report to camp.

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Danys Baez allowed one hit in three innings Tuesday as the Cleveland Indians defeated the Houston Astros 4-0.

Jim Thome, Ricky Gutierrez, Todd Dunwoody and Bruce Aven each had two of Cleveland's 14 hits. Rookie second baseman Keith Ginter had two of the Astros' five hits.

It was Baez's second start since being moved into the rotation this spring after a successful rookie season. The 24-year-old became one of the best relievers in the AL after the All-Star break last year, relying on a 95-to-97 mph fastball and 88-to 91 mph split-finger.

"Danys had real good stuff today," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "What we want to see is if his velocity holds up in later innings."

Baez said that should not be a problem.

"The fastball is my number one pitch," he said. "I used two fastballs, one with two seams and one with four seams, when I was a starter in Cuba. I feel real good and could have gone more than three innings today."

Jaret Wright pitched two hitless innings for the Indians. The right-hander is trying to recover from shoulder surgery that limited him to 29 major league innings a year ago.

"I felt very good and was very happy with my control," said Wright, who struck out three and did not allow a runner. "My goal today was to go out and relax and hit spots. I did that and felt good."

Astros bench coach Tony Pena was impressed with the Indians' pitching.

"Baez and Wright really showed me something," he said. "Both had good command. They have the pitches; it is all about command for them."

Cleveland scored twice in the third off Dave Mlicki. Einar Diaz hit a wind-blown double that eluded left fielder Brian Hunter. Diaz scored on a double down the right-field line by Matt Lawton. Omar Vizquel followed with an RBI single to center.

The Indians scored twice in the seventh off non-roster lefty Wayne Franklin. Anthony Medrano had an RBI single and Bruce Aven an RBI double.

Mlicki allowed two runs and five hits over three innings, striking out three.

Notes: Indians INF Mike Lansing has yet to play because of a sore lower back. "I feel better each day," said the veteran, who was invited to camp on a minor-league contract. ... Pena said he is excited about his first season helping new Astros manager Jimy Williams. "My goal is to be a big-league manager," said the former Indians catcher. "There is so much I can learn from Jimy, who is one of the best in the business." ... Indians OF Alex Escobar will miss the entire season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. ... Indians INF John McDonald, who had an emergency appendectomy last Wednesday, was scheduled to have the staples removed from his right side on Tuesday.

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

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