Indians Acquire Catcher From Braves ... McDonald Looks Good

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Badly needing a veteran backup catcher, the Cleveland Indians acquired Eddie Perez in a trade Thursday with the Atlanta Braves for a player to be named or cash.

The Indians had been looking for an experienced backup for Einar Diaz while Eddie Taubensee is sidelined for at least two months with a bad back.

"They need somebody and I need somebody," Perez said.

Perez, 33, was one of about 15 catchers the Indians had been monitoring during spring training, Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said.

And Perez stood out because he was affordable, available and had an impeccable resume.

"He's caught some of the best pitchers in all baseball," Shapiro said of Perez, who was the personal catcher for four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux.

However, Shapiro said Perez, who has played in only 12 games the past two seasons because of shoulder surgeries, is not guaranteed a spot on Cleveland's roster. The Indians will spend the next 10 days evaluating Perez and exploring other potential deals.

Perez had been in the Braves' organization since 1986, and found it tough to say goodbye.

"It's hard to leave this behind," Perez said after learning of the trade. "My tears are right there, ready to come out."

Perez will see his former teammates soon enough though. The Braves will play the Indians in an exhibition game Friday at Chain O' Lakes Park.

"I'll probably hit a fly ball and go to the Braves dugout," he said.

With Taubensee out and Tim Laker still recovering from a liver/pancreas ailment, Josh Bard was in line to be Cleveland's second-string catcher.

But although he is batting .385 and been the surprise of camp, Bard has only played in one game above the Double-A level. Shapiro said by getting Perez, it will allow Bard a chance to do more catching at the Triple-A level.

Perez had appeared in 325 games over the past seven seasons, and was Javy Lopez's backup from 1996-99. In 1999, Perez won the MVP award in the National League championship series.

However, surgery on his rotator cuff had kept him out most of the past two seasons and he signed a minor-league deal with the Braves and came to Atlanta's camp to compete for the No. 2 catching spot with Paul Bako.

But the Braves traded Bako and pitcher Jose Cabrera to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday for catcher Henry Blanco, a defensive specialist, pushing Perez aside.

The move stunned Perez, who was told of that trade before an exhibition game Wednesday night in Orlando against Cleveland. He played anyway, and his appearance served as another audition for the Indians, who Shapiro said had seen him play six or seven times this spring.

"He calls a good game," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "He sees the ball good. His arm strength isn't what we would like it to be, but if we can build that up a little bit, we think we got a good catcher."

Perez, a .258 career hitter who has played in 27 postseason games, still thinks he is.

"I have to show them I'm healthy," he said. "I'll go there and do exactly the same thing as here. I want to show them I'm ready. Hopefully it will work out.

"It's the best deal I can find right now. It's a good team, a good organization. I can't ask for more than that. It's a great team, a close team, a team like the Braves. A great bunch of guys, a winning team."

-----

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Jeff Bagwell's shoulder is still hurting. His swing looks more than healthy, though. Bagwell, who had surgery on his right shoulder this winter, homered twice Thursday to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.

Bagwell hit a solo shot to right field in the sixth inning off Bartolo Colon and then pulled a two-run homer to left in the eighth off Jeff D'Amico (0-2).

"It's getting there," Bagwell said as reached into his locker left-handed while balancing the mountain of ice wrapped on his right shoulder. "There's not much I can do but push through it."

That's exactly what he did last year, playing in 161 games for the Astros despite the pain in his shoulder. This spring, he had been playing mostly as the club's designated hitter before returning to first base last week.

"I'm back in the field, so that's good," said Bagwell, who had the labrum in his shoulder reattached during offseason surgery. "This is just something that I'm going to have to deal with."

Tripp Cromer also homered for the Astros. Reliever T.J. Mathews his first win of the spring and Pete Munro worked one inning for the save.

Houston starter Dave Mlicki allowed two runs and five hits in six innings.

Russell Branyan hit his fourth homer for Cleveland.

Colon gave up three runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings -- his longest outing this spring. He struck out four and didn't allow a walk.

Bagwell said he has had to make some adjustments with his swing following the surgery, but it looked as sweet as ever on his homers.

His second shot, to left off Mathews, was vintage Bagwell. He stayed down on the ball, and sent it high over the wall. And although the wind threatened to blow it back in the ballpark, Bagwell knew it was gone from the moment he made contact.

"It's a little different for me because may hand comes off the bat," he said. "But I'm definitely starting to feel more comfortable with everything."

Indians shortstop John McDonald, who was sidelines for nearly three weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy earlier this spring, had two hits and made three sensational plays in the field.

McDonald twice backhanded hard shots in the hole and threw out runners. He also made a diving stop up the middle and shoveled the ball with his glove to second for a force.

McDonald, who should make the club as a utility infielder, wasn't expected to be back for 6-to-8 weeks.

Notes: Indians OF Milton Bradley was scratched from the starting lineup with tendinitis in his right knee. He's batting .349 this spring. ... A preliminary MRI exam on Jaret Wright's shoulder didn't reveal any new damage, Shapiro said. Wright, who has had two surgeries in the past 18 months, left camp earlier this week after experiencing tightness.

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