Economics Force Change Of Approach For Indians ... Tribe Loses
March 15, 2002 at 5:38 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 5:00 PM
By JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Despite losing Roberto Alomar and Juan Gonzalez, the Cleveland Indians remain one of the most powerful teams in baseball.
Only now the power is in the arms of their young pitchers instead of the bats of their sluggers.
With big hitters Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Alomar and Gonzalez no longer around, the Indians' fortunes rest with a group of 20-something pitchers: Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia, Danys Baez and Ryan Drese.
"That's where our strength lies," said general manager Mark Shapiro, who orchestrated the changes in his first offseason after replacing John Hart.
"This is not a revolutionary shift in philosophy or anything. We looked at the challenges presented to us is the market we play in and looked at the number of young arms and felt that was the best route to go."
Shapiro was under orders from owner Larry Dolan to slash payroll, which reached $91 million last season. In order to do that, Shapiro had to lose Gonzalez, Alomar and Kenny Lofton.
That puts added pressure on a pitching staff that could be one of the best young rotations in the league.
"I think guys are excited and ready to take care of that," the 21-year-old Sabathia said. "You can't replace guys like Robbie, Kenny and Juan, but you can get guys working together and do the job."
It will be quite a change at Jacobs Field this season, where fans have grown used to seeing lots of runs from both the home and visiting teams and knowing that no lead is safe.
The best example of that came last season, when the Indians rallied from a 12-run deficit to beat the Seattle Mariners in baseball's biggest comeback in 76 years.
"In the past, our hitters kind of overshadowed our pitchers," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We were always able to come back from big deficits. Whether we can do that this year we still have to see. We'll know when we start playing."
Ever since the Indians started winning AL Central titles in 1995, it's been the big bats that have carried them. They've scored at least 840 runs each season and finished in the top three in offense in the American League in six of the past seven seasons.
The pitching has been a different story and has played the biggest role in preventing Cleveland from winning its first World Series since 1948. The Indians haven't had one of the top five pitching staffs in the league since 1996, and even then they lacked the dominant starters they hope Colon and Sabathia will become.
"It's definitely going to be a lot different style of baseball," said newcomer Matt Lawton, who spent most of the last six years with Minnesota. "Right now, we're really dependent on our pitching. In years past, the Indians had good pitching, but they always knew they could outscore you when they needed to no matter how many runs they gave up. This year will be different."
This year, the Indians are going to need to shut down the opposition's bats because theirs might not be good enough to stage those remarkable rallies.
Sabathia needs to pitch as well as he did last year as a rookie when he went 17-5 for the Indians to win the AL Central again. But more important is that Colon become more consistent.
Colon, who aged from 26 to 28 in the offseason when his true birthdate was revealed, can top 100 mph on the radar gun.
"I think it's time for Bartolo to step up," Manuel said. "He can be a guy like Curt Schilling. He has better stuff. It's not just his fastball. He has three out pitches. But he needs to be more of a pitcher."
Colon and Sabathia aren't the only young hard throwers the Indians are counting on. Cuban defector Danys Baez had an outstanding year as a rookie reliever, going 5-3 with a 2.50 ERA, and now will become a starter.
Ryan Drese, 25, showed promise as a late-season callup last year and will be the fifth starter. Veteran Chuck Finley could stabilize the rotation, and Bob Wickman headlines a strong bullpen that should help keep the Indians in contention.
"I think this has the potential to be the best pitching staff we've ever put together," Manuel said. "We've got some hard-throwing guys who will have a lot of success if they can throw strikes."
This year, the Indians will need it.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Carl Pavano pitched five no-hit innings Friday as the Montreal Expos defeated the Cleveland Indians 6-0.
The Expos' right-hander was limited to eight starts last season (1-6, 6.33 ERA) while recovering from elbow surgery. He is 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts this spring.
The only Cleveland batter to reach against Pavano was Wil Cordero, safe on third baseman Chris Truby's error. The next batter, Matt Lawton, lined into a double play.
Pavano struck out three and walked none.
The Indians broke up the no-hit bid when Mike Lansing led off the sixth inning with a single up the middle off Pavano's replacement, Scott Stewart.
Cleveland starter Danys Baez pitched the first five innings, allowing two runs in the second.
Jose Canseco drew a one-out walk, then scored on Brad Wilkerson's triple. Truby followed with an RBI groundout.
Scott Hodge's bases-clearing triple in the eighth inning and Ron Calloway had a sacrifice fly.
Wilkerson and Glen Barker had two hits each for the Expos.
Pavano, Stewart, Guillermo Mota and T.J. Tucker combined to limit the Indians to four hits.
Notes: The Expos optioned RHP Ron Chiavacci to their minor league camp and reassigned LHP Matt Blank, RHP Julio Manon, 1B Joe Vitiello and C Toby Rumfield to their minor-league system. ... The Expos canceled Thursday's option of OF Matt Cepicky. ... Indians RHP Jaret Wright said he will throw a bullpen session Saturday. Wright has not pitched in a week due to stiffness in his surgically repaired right shoulder. ... Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel confirmed that Indians minor league field coordinator Jeff Datz and Triple-A Buffalo manager Eric Wedge are the finalists for the club's bench coach job. ... Former bench coach Grady Little was hired Monday as manager of the Boston Red Sox.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)