Indians' Sabathia Still Playing It Cool ... Bad News For Jaret

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - C.C. Sabathia is as cool as they come, always has been. Nothing seems to rattle the Cleveland Indians' left-hander.

He figures he'll let everyone else worry about whether he can match his rookie season. Or that his weight is hovering around 300 pounds.

Sabathia is staying typically low-key and relaxed.

"I'm just out there having fun," he said. "I don't change. That's me. I don't know. It's not a big deal where I'm at."

He may not think so, but after a dazzling first year in the majors, Sabathia has become one of baseball's budding superstars. If he's not one already.

Sabathia, who had never pitched above Double-A, wasn't even expected to make Cleveland's roster last season. But then he went 17-5, led major league rookies in wins, starts and strikeouts, and finished second to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

He was the Indians' most consistent pitcher all season, and then beat the beat the Seattle Mariners in his only playoff start.

Although there was no urgency to sign him to a long-term deal, the Indians decided to anyway. They gave Sabathia a $9.5 million, four-year contract at the start of spring training, a deal that with incentives and options could swell to $20 million.

The agreement meant security -- for Sabathia and the Indians, who may have wound up paying even more if he progresses the way they hope he will.

"He's a special player," assistant general manager Neal Huntington said. "But he's also a special person."

Once the contract was finished, Sabathia said he allowed himself one special purchase.

"A new car," he said proudly. "Mercedes."

But it looks like Sabathia, 21, may have also treated himself to a few steak dinners.

He arrived at training camp weighing over 300, 30 pounds over his listed weight. Big-boned to begin with, the 6-foot-7 Sabathia has a huge lower body and has never had to keep his weight in check.

The Indians, who have had to monitor starter Bartolo Colon's girth in the past, insist they're not concerned about Sabathia's bulging waistline.

"He's a big guy," Huntington said. "I think C is aware of the importance of it. He's going to continue to work at it and make good nutritional choices.

"I think it would be more of a concern if we were five years down the road and it was still an issue. We're still dealing with a 21-year-old young man, who is extremely special. But he's still 21."

All the talk about him being overweight is being overblown, Sabathia said.

"It's just a learning thing for me," he said. "I feel fine. I don't think it will be a problem at all. I'm ready to go."

Sabathia has come so far, so fast with the Indians that on Monday they sent him to the minors -- for five innings.

The club was off, and because they wanted to evaluate Charles Nagy on Tuesday against Kansas City, the Indians had Sabathia pitch for Cleveland's Kinston (A) affiliate on one of the practice fields.

A year ago, Sabathia was the one whose every move was being analyzed. And just two springs ago, the back fields were where he practiced everyday.

"I've pitched against some of those same guys," Sabathia said. "It's still kind of amazing I made it to the big leagues so fast."

The Indians coddled Sabathia as a rookie, closely monitoring his innings and pitch count. This year, they won't baby him as much and can't afford to anyway.

Sabathia isn't just their prized prospect any longer. He's a No. 2 starter who'll be expected to win every time he takes the mound. It's enough to make anyone nervous.

But not Sabathia.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said. "I just want to go out, have fun and keep winning games."

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Russell Branyan, finally an everyday player for Cleveland this season, had a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning Tuesday as the Indians rallied for a 10-9 win over the Kansas City Royals.

However, the Indians got some bad news when right-hander Jaret Wright was only able to pitch to three batters in a minor league game before leaving with tightness in his shoulder.

General manager Mark Shapiro said there was a "98 percent chance" Wright would begin the season on the disabled list.

"It's concerning," Shapiro said. "Is it serious? I won't know until he sees a doctor."

Wright immediately left the Indians' training complex for California to see Dr. Lewis Yocum, who has operated on Wright's shoulder twice in the past 18 months.

"I know it's frustrating for Jaret," Shapiro said. "I feel for him."

Wright's career has been in a tailspin since his rookie year in 1997, when he won three postseason games and started Game 7 of the World Series.

He had one impressive outing this spring before feeling tightness in his shoulder during a recent start and the Indians decided to limit his work.

Wright was scheduled to work two innings, but had to quit after two batters and 21 pitches.

Rookie Brandon Berger hit a grand slam for the Royals, who took a 9-7 lead into the ninth. But Wil Cordero's RBI double off loser Jeff Austin and Brady Anderson's sacrifice fly tied it.

Royals left fielder Dee Brown made a leaping catch at the wall to take an extra-base hit away from Anderson. Brown bruised his right knee and the team said he will be examined again on Wednesday.

Branyan, who has been working with hitting coach Eddie Murray on shortening his swing, then hit his winning single down the right-field line off Rick DeHart.

Paul Shuey pitched one inning for the win.

Charles Nagy, trying to win a spot on the Indians' roster as a fifth starter or long reliever, gave up four runs and eight hits in five innings.

Nagy was touched for three runs in the fourth, when his pitches got up in the strike zone.

"I felt better today, but I still have to get guys out," Nagy said.

The popular right-hander has 128 wins in 12 seasons with the Indians, but he has pitched in just 26 games the past two seasons after undergoing two surgeries on his elbow.

Still, the Indians are hoping he can help them. Especially since he is signed to a $6 million contract for 2002.

Nagy's 2001 season ended last August when he was placed on the DL. But instead of going home, he stayed with the team and helped out by throwing batting practice.

"Nobody in the world gives as much as Charlie does," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "You pull like heck for him. But he has to be perfect right now to be a good pitcher."

Notes: The Indians were so interested in signing OF Ruben Rivera to a minor league contract that they had their team psychologist and player personnel director speak with him. However, the team backed off and decided not to pursue Rivera, released last week by the New York Yankees after stealing a bat and glove from Derek Jeter's locker. "We looked at his upside, his track record on and off the field and decided not to head in that direction," assistant GM Neal Huntington said. ... Royals LHP Jeremy Affeldt, being considered to make the club's opening day roster, struck out pinch-hitter Jim Thome with the bases loaded to end the sixth. "He's had a good spring," manager Tony Muser said. "He passed another test." Affeldt pitched at Double-A last season. ... Berger hit 40 homers at Double-A Wichita last season, the first player to hit that many in the Texas League since 1964.

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