Indians Need Break From Rough Spring ... Tribe Pounds Maddux

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - There wasn't a cloud in the sky Friday when the Cleveland Indians took pregame batting practice before an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves.

Even the big black one that seemed to hang over the Indians at Chain O' Lakes Park for the past few weeks finally blew away -- for the moment anyway.

This has been an especially rough spring training camp for the Indians, who already have endured a season's worth of injuries, surgeries, setbacks and bad luck.

"Hopefully, we can get them out of the way and get well," manager Charlie Manuel said. "As long as we're ready to go once the seasons starts. The thing that hurt us the last two or three years is having so many little nagging injuries."

One by one, Indians players, coaches and even a front office member have been sidelined by injuries -- some of them serious.

There have been other setbacks.

Cleveland has had to replace popular bench coach Grady Little, who left to manage the Boston Red Sox.

Roberto Alomar accused Indians general manager Mark Shapiro of lying to him before the All-Star second baseman was traded to the New York Mets.

Most springs, Florida's warmth would be welcome. This year, though, the Indians could use a break from spring.

"Yeah, we're looking forward to going home," reliever Paul Shuey said.

Some of the health problems include:

  • Outfielder Alex Escobar. The highly touted outfielder torn a knee ligament after crashing into an outfield wall. The key player in the Alomar deal, Escobar is out for the season.
  • Backup catcher Eddie Taubensee. He's done for at least two months with degenerative discs in his back. Tim Laker, another backup catcher, never came to camp and hasn't fully recovered from a liver/pancreas ailment, forcing the club to trade for Eddie Perez.
  • Pitcher Jaret Wright. He had a strong start in his comeback from two shoulder surgeries, but is back in California after experiencing tightness during a minor league game. He'll begin the season on the disabled list, and his career could be in jeopardy.
  • Pitcher Jake Westbrook. He might have been the club's long reliever, but he had elbow surgery.
  • Shortstop John McDonald. This was to be the slick-fielding 27-year-old's big chance, but he had an emergency appendectomy and missed three weeks. His loss was compounded by utilityman Jolbert Cabrera being out while recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in a carjacking in Colombia.
  • Bullpen coach Luis Isaac. He had to be rushed to the hospital for intestinal surgery.
  • Steve Lubratich, the club's director of player personnel. On his way out of Shapiro's office, Lubratich stumbled on some steps and tore a knee ligament.

There have been an assortment of lesser injuries. Travis Fryman, Mike Lansing, Einar Diaz, Jim Thome and C.C. Sabathia are just some of the Indians who have missed time for minor bumps and bruises.

Outfielder Milton Bradley is the latest casualty. He was scratched from Thursday's game with tendinitis in his right knee, and will miss a few days.

"We have four or five guys that, if we have to talk about them being injured, it will be detrimental," Shapiro said. "We're not talking about those guys.

"I don't like talking about any injuries, but as long as we're not talking about Jim Thome, Ellis Burks, Bartolo Colon and C.C. Sabathia we'll be all right."

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) - Greg Maddux hasn't had many outings like this one.

The four-time Cy Young winner got tagged for nine runs, walked six and had an error in just four innings Friday as the Cleveland Indians routed the Atlanta Braves 9-2.

Karim Garcia hit a three-run homer and Omar Vizquel had three RBIs for the Indians, who scored five runs in the third and four more in the fourth off Maddux (0-3).

"I didn't pitch good," said Maddux, who gave up seven earned runs. "The ball was up. Everything was up. I'd make a good pitch and they'd hit it hard. I'd make a better pitch and they'd hit it harder."

Maddux, who won his 12th-straight Gold Glove last season, also fanned while trying to field an easy comebacker in the fourth inning for an error. He had one miscue in 74 chances all last season.

"I actually felt good, that's the sad part," Maddux said. "It would be nice to sit here if I had an excuse."

Rookie Ryan Drese (4-0) might have locked up his spot as the Indians' No. 5 starter with another strong outing.

The right-hander gave up two runs and eight hits in seven innings. He walked none, struck out four and made a nice defensive play by bouncing off the mound to snag a grounder and throw a runner out at third.

"That's the best I've felt all spring," said Drese, one of the young pitchers the Indians are reshaping their future around.

Indians manager Charlie Manuel has been reluctant to name his fifth starter. But in a group including Charles Nagy, Omar Olivares and Jose Mercedes, Drese has been the best by far.

"He's the front-runner for that," Manuel said, "and he doesn't want to give it up."

With Juan Gonzalez, Roberto Alomar and Marty Cordova gone from last year's squad, the Indians have a new offensive philosophy this season. Instead of waiting for the three-run homer, they want to be aggressive on the bases and move up runners to create more scoring chances.

That's exactly what they did in the third.

Taking advantage of three walks by Maddux, the Indians got four singles and two sacrifice flies -- one by Garcia -- to take a 5-0 lead.

They added four in the fourth, getting three of them on Garcia's second homer this spring.

"We had some really good base running there," Manuel said. "We worked the count and Omar came up with some big hits for us."

Maddux was pitching to newly acquired catcher Henry Blanco, who came over in a trade this week from Milwaukee. But Maddux said having Blanco behind the plate had nothing to do with his lousy outing.

And just because it's spring training, don't think Maddux wasn't upset at getting pounded.

"It doesn't matter when you get your butt kicked," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's March or August. Games like this in a way can be very helpful for you. You get more information on guys when you give up hits. And today I got a ton."

Notes: C Eddie Perez joined the Indians after being traded over from the Braves on Thursday. Perez spent 16 years in Atlanta's organization and was Maddux's personal catcher. "Eddie's a great guy," Maddux said. "Without him, we probably wouldn't have ... had the success we've had. I've enjoyed throwing to Eddie as much as anybody." The Indians, who were desperate for a backup catcher with Eddie Taubensee (back) sidelined for two months, signed Perez to a minor league deal and will spend the next week deciding if he'll be Einar Diaz's backup. Perez has had surgery on his right shoulder in each of the past two years. Maddux thinks the Indians would be wise to hang on to Perez. "I think the Indians will be pleasantly surprised with the little things Eddie does," Maddux said.

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