Monday, March 31, 2008

Tribe tr - umps ChiSox in opener

A lot good happened at Progressive Field today.

A lot of bad happened as well.

And so too, there was a lot of ugly.

Let's start with the bad, because it was a big part of the Tribe's win 10-8 over the ChiSox.

A lot depends on what side of the fence you are sitting on, but even as a Tribe fan I'd have to say the umpiring in the last two-and-half innings was brutal, and the Indians were the beneficiary.

Here's what happened.

Top 7: Tribe 7 Sox 7, bags juiced, Tribe-fan favorite A.J. Pierzynski bounces one up the middle. Jhonny P. fields and throws wide of 1B and up the line just a little. Ryan Garko - the guy who supposedly can't play 1B - goes flat out, snags the ball while attempting to keep his foot on the base. The ump says ........ yes he did!

Top 8: Tribe 7 Sox 7, bases loaded - this time with no outs. Orlando Cabrera chops one between the mound and 3B. Peralta charges and throws poorly - again. This one is wide and up the third-base line. No 6-2-3 double play for sure, but Kelly Shoppach swipes at Joe Crede on his way home. Did Shoppach tag him? ..... the ump says yes he did!

Same inning. Next batter - Thome. He bounces one to 2B. Asdrubal pitches it to Peralta covering. Too late to get it back to first, but Orlando Cabrera takes a swipe at Jhonny as he slides by. His feet touch the bag during the slide. So did he interfere? The ump says .... he did.

Let me preface my next comments by saying I was watching the White Sox broadcast on the dish, which just happens to feature the two biggest homer announcers in the league - Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson.

But, with the possible exception of Rex Hudler with the Angels, Harrelson and Jackson are also the two biggest morons behind a major league mic, so I doubt I was swayed by anything they had to say.

Based on the replays I saw - at game speed, in slow mo and paused by TIVO - I'd say the interference call on Cabrera was bogus. His slide was close enough to the bag for him to touch it with both feet, and the arm swipe came when - it appeared -Peralta had already decided to eat the ball.

And though it really was tough to tell if there was any daylight between Garko's foot and the bag, or Shop-Vac's glove and Crede -- gun-to-my-head, I'd have to say both Pierzinski and Crede were safe.

Given the situations, and the awful performance by the Tribe's pen today, it's safe to assume the Sox could have taken a lead of several runs over those two innings.

Now for the ugly.

Let's put it plain and simple. The Tribe's pitching. Not one of the Tribe's five hurlers looked good.

CC overpitched, much as he did in the playoffs last year. He struck out seven, but gave up two, two-run bombs to Thome. He walked three and gave up six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Mostly, he just never was able to settle in.

Jensen Lewis came in and struck out two in the sixth to get CC out of a jam. But he was wild high that inning and free swingers Juan Uribe and Crede couldn't resist, swinging through a number of high fastballs. Lewis gave up two singles to the first two hitters in the seventh before he was sent packing.

Raffie Perez gave up a game-tying double to Paul Konerko after being spared the same fate one-batter earlier when Thome was robbed of a double to left by Jason Michaels.

Raffie Betancourt gave up another hit in the seventh before ending the frame. But in the eighth, he gave up two doubles, though no one scored and then benefited from the umps' calls outlined earlier.

Joe Bo came in in the ninth with a three-run lead. He gave up a dinger to Jermaine Dye and a walk to Pierzynski while notching his first save. A lot like last year.

Unlike last year, Casey Blake came up huge in the clutch, driving home three with a long, two-out, eighth-inning double to left that missed being a grand slam by about two feet. It hit off the wall, putting the Tribe ahead 10-7.

That's where the 'good' comes in. And there was plenty of it

Franklin Gutierrez gave the Tribe its first lead in the second, 4-2, with a three-run shot off Mark Buehrle - the biggest blast in a seven-run inning. Grady Sizemore also jacked one to right center that inning, as the Tribe sent 12 to the plate and had eight hits.

Peralta was two-for-four and Victor Martinez went two-for-two before exiting to the biggest dose of "bad' for the Tribe.

Victor went down in a heap and hobbled off the field after trying to advance to second on a passed ball, ending what had been a fabulous second inning.

Right now the Tribe says Victor is day-to-day with a strained hammy. My guess is we won't really know the extent of the injury for a few days.

That makes it very 'good" that we didn't trade Shop-Vac over the winter.

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Spent the better part of the past three days in upstate New York, where it is still snowing by the way.

Got home and found that two fantasy baseball teams had been birthed while I was gone.

Both were top-heavy in closers and had outfields reminiscent of the late 70s Indians with Rick Manning, Johnny Grubb, Ron Pruitt, Jim Norris and Horace Speed.

(Raise your hand if you were a Horace Speed Freak)

Some quick and furious trading netted me Adam Dunn, Nick Markakis and Curtis Granderson, so we're good to go on that front.

All of which is the long way of saying I have been remiss in posting the past couple of days.

So today is Opening Day, in all its glory. Clearly the best day of the year. A day that should be a national holiday.

I mean, would you rather have President's Day off, or Opening Day? It's a no- brainer.

Something else that is a no-brainer - one would think.

The Tribe has to stop playing Chicago on Opening Day. This makes four years in a row that two of the coldest-weather teams have been paired-up to start the season in March, or damn close to March.

Does that make any sense?

Snow will not be a problem today, but apparently thundershowers may be. We'll keep our fingers crossed for luck, and those of you in the seats can keep your legs crossed so the combination of cold weather and cold beer doesn't send you to the men's (or ladies') room every inning or so.

Meanwhile, here in Yankeeland things are no better for the last Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. I'm looking out my glass-walled office on the shores of the Hudson River in Jersey City. Manhattan is just one mile away, across the river - I think. In the past 45 minutes or so, a gray sky has turned into a heavy a fog that has all but obliterated the NYC skyline, not to mention its ground-level view.

Does it really make sense to start the baseball season in March? And if that is a must, can't it open in the warm-weather cities? I know the same point is made every year, but one can hope that eventually someone at MLB will show some common sense and follow up on the idea.

One thing that may - unfortunately - be different next Opening Day is the person who will be taking the mound for the Tribe to start the season.

For the fifth time in his career, CC will get the Opening Day start for the Tribe. That ties him with Bob Lemon for the club record. It's a damn shame he likely won't be around to claim the record for himself next season, and something else that should, but won't, change in baseball.

I'm not big into predictions, especially since every paper and Web site in the country has their own this morning.

But, on the biggest question of the year, I say the Tribe will outlast Detroit's Mauler's Row and win the Central Division. The Tribe has more talent and depth in the starting rotation, more talent and depth (by a longshot) in the pen, more overall depth and more trading-deadline depth.

The Tigers have an impressive lineup but they decimated their minor league organization to get it. Another injury or two, especially on the pitching staff, and the Tigers won't have the pieces to recast the puzzle.

About the only bad news today is that I don't think I'll be able to see the Tribe game on the dish. I have the MLB package but ESPN has purchased a monopoly on Opening Day and, if memory serves, MLB Extra Innings won't get any games today.

My only hope is WGN (if that doesn't get blacked out too in NY). It means listening to Hawk Harrelson, but that really is what the mute button is for.

Baseball fans rejoice!! Opening Day is here!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hot Dog! Ketchup's wearing "Wild Thing" glasses!

The new Progressive Field sign was hoisted earlier this week to much fanfare.

And that's just the start of the excitement.

While the Tigers were busy adding and signing Miguel Cabrera, the Tribe's front office was cooking up new ways to spice up the already-pants-wetting excitement of the between-innings Hot Dog Race - a bit they stole by the way from Milwaukee, and don't do nearly as well.

But it's going to be so much more exciting this year!

The three contestants - Ketchup, Mustard, and Onion - are getting a facelift.

As the Tribe press release tells us, Ketchup will be sporting Wild-Thing-like black glasses.

"Ketchup continues to be the devious rebel "cheater", which is enhanced through his new facial expression and "Wild Thing" Rick Vaughn style glasses. He will take every advantage to win, disregarding the sanctity of the race."

Really? Who knew these hot dogs had personalities?

Oh indeed they do. Or so says the Tribe's PR machine.

"Mustard remains the all-American boy of the group. Cool, fun-loving and focused on giving the fans his best effort every race. He struggles daily to keep Ketchup in line."

Well, someone has to, and we can't count on that "diva," Onion to do it.

"Onion is the diva. While she will give her best effort in the race, she knows how to strut her stuff and always looks good. She has a crush on Mustard which irritates Ketchup to no end."

Has anyone noticed any of this crap before the PR department told us it's true?

More importantly, does anyone give a rat's ass?

Probably the most ridiculous thing about this is the Tribe hired consultants - and not just any consultants, but the best in the Hot Dog Race business - to add a little zest to the promotion.

"The Cleveland Indians will enhance the brand for the 2008 season. Olympus Flag & Banner out of Milwaukee, WI (creator of the Milwaukee Brewers Sausage mascots) has developed new physical identities for Ketchup, Mustard and Onion."

Enhance the freekin' brand?

Despite being overloaded with crap, the press release never does get around to telling us what new looks Mustard and Onion will adopt.

That's where the Plain Dealer's intrepid reporter Mark Bona comes in, sleuthing the details.

Bona reports Mustard will wear a beanie and eye black.

Sure sounds "cool and fun-loving" to me.

Who doesn't like a guy with a beanie and eye black?

My big concern though is the wind drag the beanie is likely to cause. Won't that put our friend Mustard at a disadvantage during the race?

Onion, it seems, will sport a purse. Very cutting edge. A female character carrying a purse.

The best part of the PD article is the headline.

"Progressive Field swings for fan's needs."

Besides being difficult to decipher, the headline talks about "fan's needs."

But do the "fans" really need a new high-end loge going for 10-grand a game?

The Tribe converted four loges (that they couldn't sell individually in this depressed economy) into this one, high-end loge (for the fans).

The Tibe's top PR man Bob DiBiasio could barely contain his excitement when talking about the new digs with the PD.

"This is going to be the newest, bestest, funnest thing."

Pehaps the second newest, bestest, funnest thing will be the new party deck in the right field corner. Where a "fan" can throw his or her own party for just $50 a head - provided of course they invite at least 24 other heads to the party.

And if you are a loner, and the party isn't maxed out on any given night, you can crash it for just $65.

Clearly something the fans "need."

On the other hand, there is one noteworthy initiative put forth in the Tribe's press release.

The Cleveland Indians High Achievers Kids Club will provide an opportunity for students to be rewarded with tickets and other great prizes for positive efforts and academic success. The goal of this newly developed online venture-which is FREE TO STUDENTS IN GRADES K-8-is to give an outlet for Northeast Ohio students to have fun through learning with a focus on education and citizenship.

It's not clear how the program will work, but anything offering free tickets to kids and an effort to improve academic success is something I can get behind.

The program brings back memories of my grade school years at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary school on Cleveland's southeast side.

On the last day of school the pastor of the parish, Fr. Humensky, would get up in front of the room and carefully examine - and publicly comment on - each students grades as he was handing out their report card.

That was incentive enough to put forth max effort in the fourth grading period.

But for me there was a much stronger motive.

The now-defunct Cleveland Press, in a promotion with the Indians, would give out two tickets for a half-dozen or so games to every elementary school student in Greater Cleveland who got straight A's on their last report card.

If you were lucky, a kindly clerk at the paper would let you slide with one B, as they stamped your report card and handed over the tickets.

You can call me an old grouch (because that is exactly what I am), but I'll take the good old days of the Cleveland Press, single-admission Sunday doubleheaders and organ music between innings and during rallies over today's hyped-up, noisy, two-bit-ad-infested nights at the park.

Not very progressive of me I know.

(By the way, the Tribe's own Hot Dog Race characters - 'til now of course - were so nondescript I couldn't find any pictures of them and had to steal a photo of the same hokey bit at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City)

Delucci, Breslow round out Tribe roster

Unless David Delucci's arm falls off tomorrow, the Tribe's 25-man roster is set.

Tom Mastny has been sent to the minors, meaning that newly acquired Craig Breslow will take the final spot on the pitching staff as the second lefty in the pen.

Talk about stepping into it.

Breslow got cut from Boston at just about the time the Tribe came to the conclusion that Aaron Fultz wasn't getting it done.


Instant roster spot.

All he had to do was show up and pitch one perfect spring inning for the Tribe.

I can't argue with this decision too much.

Mastny has been decent, but not great over the past couple of seasons with the Tribe. He had a decent spring except for one horrible outing. And there was that one glorious inning in the ALCS against Boston that turned the series in the Tribe's favor - at least for a while.

But a second lefty is nice to have and Mastny has not been good enough to have been considered a lock, especially considering the number of new arms brought into camp this spring.

Delucci went 3-for-5 in today's game against the Astros.

More importantly he played for the second day in a row since he began complaining of a sore forearm.'s Anthony Castrovince reports Delucci will make the Tribe's roster and be a part of the left-field platoon with Jason Michaels as long as his arm isn't barking at him tomorrow morning.

That would mean Ben Francisco will begin the year at Buffalo and - no doubt - make his presence felt in the bigs later this summer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blessed are the optionless; Marte, Breslow make bid for final roster spots

Andy MartEE is seeking the final spot among the position players on the Tribe's roster.

With the Tribe tabbing Jorge Julio for a spot in the pen and sending Scott Elarton to Buffalo today, newly arrived lefty reliever Craig Breslow is in a similar situation out in the pen - battling Tom Mastny for the last musical chair out there.

Both MartEE and Breslow are out of options, meaning they would be subjected to waivers if the Tribe tried to send them to the minors.

That fact is not hurting their chances of making the final cut.

Neither is Breslow's left-handedness or the late-innings heroics from both players today.

MartEE hit a three-run shot today to put the Tribe ahead to stay in the eight inning of their 7-5 win over the Yankees.

Breslow, making his Tribe debut, pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out two and picking up a save.

MartEE's homer helped the troubled infielder make up for two more errors in today's game, giving him six for the spring.

When he arrived in the Coco Crisp deal, MartEE was considered a top-notch third baseman.

With his awful spring in the field this year, you have to assume that MartEE's confidence has taken a nosedive or that he has been confused and distracted by the Tribe's efforts to turn him into a utility player, working him out at 1B and in the outfield.

MartEE also came with the reputation of being a potential impact hitter, albeit one who is streaky.

He sure has been just that this spring.

He has five homers in Florida. But if you eliminate today's game, and a game against Washington in which he hit two homers and had six RBIs, MartEE is hitting .204 this spring.

A guy who can't play one position in the field, let-alone several, and who is a streaky hitter unlikely to do well coming off the bench cold, is not an ideal candidate for the utility player role. But that is what you are likely to see with MartEE.

You have to assume Breslow will get a couple more innings in the Tribe's last four games to give the Tribe's brass something to go on. But his trump card is the team's desire to give Eric Wedge two lefties to play with out of the bullpen.

The roster had been expected to be in place by Thursday, when the Tribe breaks camp. But Wedge now says final roster decisions may not come until this weekend.

So maybe it's not as cut-and-dried as it seems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

We won't be Fultzed again


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Those of you who drafted Aaron Fultz as the sleeper lefty for you fantasy team, time to pull the plug.

The Tribe realized it was plug-pulling time today, telling the lefty reliever he would not make the 25-man roster.

They will either eat his $1.5 million salary or designate and trade him.

Fultz was somewhat useful as a lefty out of the pen in the early part of last season, until a pulled muscle in his rib cage kept him out of action for five weeks. After that he was, at best, unreliable. (I'm in a mood to be kind).

This spring he was just plain awful.

I'm fine with the decision to cut Fultz.

It's the decision on how to replace him that I'm not sure about.

Craig Breslow, put on waivers by the Red Sox and picked up by the Tribe yesterday, is expected to be handed a spot on the roster - primarily because he is left-handed.

He's already 27 and has had only two cups of coffee in the majors.

The Tribe hasn't said Breslow will make the club for sure, but you don't pick up a guy in the last week of spring training with no minor league options left, and then create a hole in your bullpen, unless you're planning to hand the job to the guy you just picked up.

I can't comment with any degree of credibility on Breslow, since I know virtually nothing about him beyond what the numbers tell us.

Breslow went 2-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 49 games for Triple-A Pawtucket last year. He struck out 73 and walked 25 in 68 2/3 innings pitched.

I can say this. I work with lots of Red Sox fans and they all snickered when mentioning the Tribe's pickup of Breslow.

I guess we'll find out soon enough.

The final spot in the pen will go to Tom Mastny, Scott Elarton or Jorge Julio.

My money is on Julio for his back-of-the pen experience.

Meanwhile, the Tribe did make a final decision on its starting rotation.

Cliff Lee - as expected - took the fifth spot, with Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers headed for Buffalo.

Still, Mark Shapiro remains impressed with Laffey:

"When he came into camp this year, it was the first time he came in with expectations and people knowing who he was. It took him a while to get comfortable with that. As he got comfortable in camp, he was the same guy, just throwing ground balls, relying on his strengths and competitiveness."

Ditto Jeremy Sowers:

"It was as good an arm strength as we've seen. His command of his secondary pitches needs to keep getting better. If it does, we have a guy who can definitely impact our big league rotation this year. I'm really excited about where Jeremy is right now."

The good news is the Tribe is at least seven-deep in starters, while the big bashers from Motown are having trouble finding five guys to throw out there.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Final-Lee, Cliff steps up in the rotation race

One of the few things about being in Yankeeland is that the winters here aren't quiet as rough as in Cleveland, and seem to break a little earlier,

I don't think ever - in the 24 years I've lived here - have we had snow on Easter.

So for those of you living in the homeland, sorry about that!

I guess if you have to have snow it's better on Easter than on Opening Day, no?

There finally is some good news on the fifth-starter front.

Cliff Lee, with his five scoreless innings Saturday seems to have stepped to the forefront and now seems like the likely No. 5 starter. Lee, just a couple of seasons away from Cy Young consideration , has had trouble nailing down the spot.

Lee of course is competing with youngsters Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers for the spinal spot in the Tribe rotation.

Laffey had a solid outing in his most-recent Florida start and they say Sowers is back up over 90 mph.

Since Lee has had considerable success in the past, I think it makes sense to give him the spot in the rotation. His spring has been as up-and-down as Laffey's and Sowers', and with the three of them picking it up lately it just makes sense to have Lee start the season on the Tribe's roster with the other two ready to take over if he falters.

A new arm

The Indians picked up a 27-year-old career minor leaguer off waivers today, and his presence may be a threat to Aaron Fultz.

The new arrival is Craig Breslow, who was let go by the Red Sox. He's out of options and would have to make the Tribe's 25-man roster if they are to keep him.

Breslow went 2-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 49 games at Pawtucket last year. He struck out 73 batters and walked 25 in 68 2/3 innings pitched.

Fultz, who was just OK prior to his arm injury last year and pretty much a disaster after coming back, is having an awful spring.

The Tribe seems married to the idea of having two lefties in the pen. Raffie Perez will be the main guy and - until today - it seemed Fultz had a spot wrapped up.

Tom Mastny, Jorge Julio and Scott Elarton - all right handers - are vying for the final spot assuming the Tribe insists on keeping two lefties.

I've said it before, I wouldn't mind seeing two of those three make the cut.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ben Francisco - a treat that will have to wait

The Tribe breaks camp in six days and plays it's season and home opener in 10 days.

As you can see in this photo from the Plain Dealer's Chuck Crow, Jacobs, uh, Progressive Field is every bit is ready as it was last year at this time.

I don't really want to talk in this piece about the wisdom of Cleveland hosting a game on March 31, but didn't we learn any lessons last year?

Eric Wedge says he plans to have his 25-man roster chosen by next Thursday, when the Tribe leaves Winter Haven forever.

My question is whether Ben Francisco will be heading out of Florida with the big club.

I would say the answer is going to be no.

Francisco is hitting .357 this spring, can move on the basepaths and has shown himself to be able to play good defense at at all three outfield positions. He's proven himself at AAA, had a decent debut in the majors last year and appears ready to go.

But there are a couple of things in his way - David Delucci and Jason Michaels.

Michaels is having a solid spring, hitting at just about .300 with an uncharacteristic three homers and a slugging percentage in the mid-700s.

Delucci is having an awful camp, which follows an injury-decimated season last year. But he still has two years on his contract, for a total of $8 million. And the Tribe has never really gotten the chance to see the guy they gave a three-year pact to last winter.

For Francisco to make the team, either Delucci or Michaels would have to go.

Delucci, who's hitting in the 100s this spring, was injured most of last year and has been complaining of a sore forearm, is as marketable right now as a seven-year-old minivan.

Michaels might be a bit more tempting for a team in need of an outfielder. But he's probably not at the top of anyone's wish list.

Francisco and Michaels both hit from the right side, so Francisco would be an obvious fit in the left field platoon plan if Michaels were to disappear.

But would the Tribe want Francisco, who would be likely to see only a couple of starts a week as the righty in a platoon situation, to ride so much time on the bench?

If the Tribe were to find a taker for one of its veteran outfielders, would they consider Francisco as a full-time left fielder? That would be risky because it would mean the Indians would have youngsters at both corner outfield spots.

There's no doubt Francisco deserves a spot on the club, but with Delucci and Michaels unlikely to be going elsewhere I just don't think it can happen.

At least not until the platoon in left proves to be inadequate.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The vultures are gathering above CC

When CC Sabathia ended contract negotiations with the Tribe because he didn't want to have to talk business during the season we all knew he'd be forced into it anyway.

And so it began yesterday, as CC took the hill against the Yankees in Florida and then fielded (deflected) questions about his future as a Yankee from New York sports writers.

Sabathia pretty much said he wouldn't talk about the future and politely told the penciled ones to buzz off.

But here's how that came out in the local papers here in New York:

The Journal News, which is distributed in the northern New York suburbs of NYC and is my local paper, had my favorite headline:

Sabathia 'auditions' for Yankees

As if they've never seen the guy. Here's the gist of the Journal News article:

That road could lead to the Bronx. If Sabathia enters the free-agent market, he is sure to be a target of the Yankees for many reasons.

With the new Yankee Stadium being built with the same dimensions as the old one, having left-handers in the rotation will remain a priority. The Yankees also could need a starter as Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte will contemplate retirement after this season.

Sabathia would give the Yankees a veteran at the top of the rotation, easing the pressure on young right-handers Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

Even the money could make sense. The Yankees can easily better the offer Cleveland has made as the expiring contracts of Mussina, Pettitte, Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano will clear $80.5 million off the books at the end of the season.

Several of those players could return. But the Yankees will have more money than usual to spend.

"He's been outstanding for the Indians for a long time," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's one of the best clearly."

That part does all make sense. It sucks. But it's true.

Then there was this headline from
The Record, formerly the Record of Hackensack and still published in Hackensack and sold in the northern New Jersey suburbs.
Sabathia a future Yankee?

Why of course. It's pretty much a done deal. We're Yankee fans. We get what we want. We want Sabathia.

Here's the lead graph from The Record's story:

Dust off all those glowing Hank Steinbrenner quotes about Johan Santana from this past winter, and substitute C.C. Sabathia's name.

And there it is — coming attractions for the 2008 off-season.

The New York Times headline writer correctly reflected what Sabathia said to reporters after yesterday's outing

Sabathia Isn’t Trying On Pinstripes

But the guy who wrote the article went off the deep end.

C. C. Sabathia started for the
Cleveland Indians at Legends Field on Sunday, and it is only logical to guess that his next start here could be for the Yankees.

Of course. It's plain as day. Sabathia is just toying with the emotions of Cleveland fans, And forget about any of the big-money teams on the West Coast. Why would he go there? He's already lived THERE. And the Red Sox, why in God's name would he want to play for the Red Sox when he could be a Yankee?

Only The Daily News, one of the ethically challenged NYC tabloids, had a headline AND story that matched what actually transpired.

C.C. Sabathia won't bite on Apple

Monday, March 17th 2008, 4:00 AM

TAMPA - Some Yankee fans view Indians' ace C.C. Sabathia, last year's AL Cy Young award winner, as the perfect target for the team when the lefty becomes a free agent next year.

Sabathia, though, says he's not thinking about the future, unless it applies to this season with the Indians. He wouldn't bite on questions about the possibility of one day becoming a Yankee, saying only, "I'm focused on playing this season in Cleveland."

Would he like to re-sign with the Indians? "In a perfect world, of course," he said yesterday. "I've been pitching here since I was 17. We'll just see what happens."

Asked about New York, he said, "New York is fine. We only go a couple times a year."

The New York Post, the city's other ethically challenged tabloid didn't mention Sabathia - clearly the biggest surprise of all.

The Newark Star Ledger, covering NJ's old-line cities and suburbs west and southwest of NYC, had just one line in the "notes' section under the game story.

Ditto Newsday, the Long Island tabloid.

CC, and we, had better get used to this. It's going to happen every time the Tribe plays a team with any money at all to spend.

Good thing he ended contract talks so he won't be distracted.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Inching closer to opening day

I'm sitting here in my suburban NY living room - a virtual no-Tribe zone during the spring.

It's hard to comment on what I can't see, since the spring games are not available on satellite.

But, with about half of the spring games now in the books, it seems like a good time to take a look at how things have gone in Winter Haven so far.

The good news is this camp can best be described as routine. So routine in fact that it has been downright boring.

That's a good thing. No injures of note. No player collapses etc...

So far a few things have become clear.

At the top of that list is the notion that two guys who are seemingly guaranteed spots on the roster should be sent packing. Aaron Fultz and Andy Marte.

Aaron Fultz has been awful in the bullpen. He's had five outings this spring and has given up at least a run in all but one. In his last outing, Fultz gave up 9 runs (7 earned) in one-third of an inning.

Fultz has, since the start of spring, been mentioned among the six pitchers who have a spot in the bullpen locked up. His season last year was mediocre at best and his spring has been a disaster. But he's left-handed and managers love having two lefties in the bullpen so they can play their managerial games. Fultz has not shown an ability to get anyone out, no matter which side of the plate they hit from. So what does he offer?

At the same time, except for one bad outing, Tom Mastny has had a scoreless spring.

Scott Elarton has also had a solid spring and could be valuable as the long man on the days when the starter blows up early.

Jorge Julio has pitched six times this spring and has allowed only two earned runs.

One of the trio will make the roster, but if Fultz would be cut two of three could make the squad.

That seems to me to be the better way to go.

The other battle on the pitching staff is for the fifth starter spot.

This one may turn out to be a hold-your-nose-and-pick situation.

Aaron Laffey
, Jeremy Sowers and Cliff Lee have had springs that can be described as somewhere between inconsistent to just plain bad. All three had respectable outings this week, but overall they've not pitched well. In fact, Sowers and Laffey have identical 11.25 ERAs in four outings each.

Lee, earlier this week, has had the only multi-inning scoreless outing by any of the three and he has an ERA of 3.85 in too few innings for that number to mean much. But Lee is making the most money, has had big seasons in the past, was troubled by injuries last year and - to this point - is having the best spring.

Manager Eric Wedge has indicated the competition will go right down to the end of camp, as it probably should. But if the spot were being chosen now, Lee would have to be the man.

Among the position players, the most controversial decision will be the fate of Andy Marte. He's got a couple of HRs this spring, but he's hitting below .200 and has three errors at 3B.

They call some players AAAA players - guys who are too good for Triple-A but who never seem to be able to cut it in the majors. Marte appears to be the classic case.

Marte was handed the 3B job last season and played awfully until being injured a few weeks into the season. He went on to have a very so-so season at Triple-A.

Because he would be subject to waivers if he is cut in the spring, Marte has a strong chance of taking up space on the final roster coming out of Winter Haven.

And yet be doesn't seem to be able to relax enough to let his talent take over.

In my mind most of the so-called AAAA players stall at that level because they lack the confidence or poise to make that final jump. The talent is there, but emotions get in the way.

Marte already has too much baggage to overcome here. He's putting too much pressure on himself to prove he belongs. He is a waste of a roster spot. He may go somewhere else - someplace where he was not the marquis name in a rather large trade - and get over the hump. It's not going to happen in Cleveland and the Tribe doesn't really need another guy who plays 1B, 3B and the outfield.

The Tribe should trade Marte for whatever they can get, which - admittedly - will not be much at this point.

There's one last issue that needs to be addressed.

Ben Francisco.

Every spring a youngster has a good pre-season, puts up huge numbers, sometimes makes the big club and often falls on his face.

But Francicsco is having a monster spring and showed ability during his stay with the big club last year.

I'm not sure I'd want two unproven young guys starting at the corner outfield positions (Franklin Gutierrez being the other), so it may be best for Francisco to start the season at Buffalo. But if Gutierrez falters, or the Tribe finds their mixture of mediocre left fielders is not what they're looking for, it's nice to know they have Francisco to go to.

Looking forward to tomorrow. The Tribe will be taking on the Yankees and it is on local TV here in New York. It'll be my first glimpse of the Tribe all spring.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Thoughts for a Thursday

How did CC do in his second outing of the spring today?

Let's just say he was on a 50-pitch limit for the day, pitched three innings in the game then went out to the bullpen to pitch the 22 pitches he didn't get to throw against the competition.

In other words, three up-three down for three innings. Twenty-eight pitches to 9 batters.

So, that's looking a lot better.

And that offense that put up one hit - a ninth inning hit at that - on Wednesday, put 11 runs on the board today.

Grady Sizemore tripled and doubled in three plate appearances. Franklin Gutierrez was 3 for 4 and Ben Francisco continued his hot spring, going 4 for 4 with 2 RBIs. Andy Marte was 2 for 5, which means he actually got a hit in two straight games.

Aaron Fultz pitched another inning - and gave up another run. Raffie Perez had an awful day on the mound, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits in an inning. Scott Elarton, on the other hand, went 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

That was today. Yesterday was another story.

Tribe closer Joe Borowski got bombed again yesterday, the second time in two outings this spring. Borowski gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk.

Still, as is mentioned on Tribe Tracker today, Eric Wedge liked what he saw from his closer

"[Borowski] had some good action on the baseball. I liked the way the baseball came out of his hand."

The Braves seemed to like the way it came out of his hand too. And I'm guessing they also were pretty happy about the way the ball came off their bats.

Masa Kobayashi also gave up a solo blast, hit a batter and walked one before calming down to get out of his one inning.

Again, Wedge saw a bright side.

"I liked how he worked his way out of it."

Tribe Tracker's Joey Marona had this observation, which to me shows the ridiculousness of the press scrutiny Kobayashi is getting just for being a Japanese player playing in the U.S.

It was amusing to see the five Japanese journalists sitting to the left of me in the press box at Chain of Lakes to stand up, as if on cue and in perfect unison, and exit the second after Masa Kobayashi recorded his final out of the sixth inning.

Seems like A.) the Japanese would be over their fascination with Japanese players playing in the U.S by now and B .) it would be awfully difficult to be under that sort of microscope. It's like involuntarily being the subject of a so-called reality TV show.

And, from's Anthony Castrovince today, it appears the Tribe's batting order is in for a bit of a shuffle this year, with Asdrubal Cabrera not likely to hit in the No. 2 hole, leaving the question - who will? Depending on the answer much of the rest of the order will likely undergo a reshuffling as well.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Three fives and two aces

UPDATE : Sowers, Laffey have off days
                       IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR
C Lee 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
A Laffey (L,0-1) 2-3 3 5 5 3 1 0
M Ginter 1 1-3 2 0 0 0 0 0
J Sowers 1 4 2 2 1 1 0

It will be the battle of the three No. 5s today as Cliff Lee, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey take the mound against the Reds in Sarasota.

Laffey and Sowers each tossed scoreless innings in their first outing of the spring.

Lee hasn't taken the hill yet because he's been suffering from the flu which is taking its toll in the Tribe camp. In fact, it's not certain that Lee will be able to answer the call today. It's not what Lee needed as he tries to reclaim the fifth spot in the Tribe's rotation.

Scott Elarton is turning some heads at camp. Elarton has pitched three scoreless innings over two outings so far. Here's an excerpt on Elarton from today's column by Anthony Castrovince of

When the Indians signed Scott Elarton to a Minor League deal shortly before camp opened, it was viewed as a favor to give Elarton a chance to showcase himself to other clubs.

But Wedge said he considers Elarton, who pitched in the Indians' rotation in 2004 and '05, a part of the mix of contenders for the final spot in the Indians' bullpen.

The 32-year-old Elarton has pitched well in camp thus far. He's yet to allow a run in three innings over two appearances, allowing one hit and one walk. He looked particularly sharp in two innings of work Sunday.

"I think he's been throwing the ball very well," Wedge said. "He was down, down and down [on Sunday]. It looks like his arm's working well right now."

Which kind of brings me to my question for today.

Why is it that Aaron Fultz is always listed among those who have a set position in the Tribe's bullpen for the upcoming year?

Fultz was mediocre at best after coming back from his mid-season injury last year. He's allowed three runs on three hits so far this spring. He's no longer the only lefty in the pen and the Tribe has a lot of candidate's to pick from overall out there.

So that brings me back to my question. Why is he more or less assured of a spot on the staff?

Tom Mastny, who seems to be on the bubble for a job, has pitched three scoreless innings and struck out five so far this spring, including an impressive outing yesterday.

Aces in the hole: Fausto Carmona made it two bad debuts in a row from the Tribe's pitching aces. Carmona couldn't make it through the two innings he was scheduled to pitch yesterday, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits in 1 2/3 innings. You can toss in a walk and a hit batsmen as well.

Carmona's outing followed a similar start by CC Sabathia on Saturday, in which he also gave up 2 runs on 5 hits in 2 innings of work.

Andy Marte went hitless again yesterday and is 0 for 8 this spring.

Josh Barfield continues to get a lot of playing time at 2B, having appeared there in 4 of the Tribe's 5 games so far. He's 2 out of 10 at the plate.

The Tribe, in fact, has made little use of its regulars so far this spring.

Here's the starting linuep for yesterday's game for example:

2B Josh Barfield, SS Jamey Carroll, LF David Dellucci, 1B Ryan Garko, RF Ben Francisco, DH Andy Marte, 3B Danny Sandoval, CF Trevor Crowe, C Yamid Hadd and RHP Fausto Carmona.

Of all the projected starters, 1B Ryan Garko has seen the most action so far. He's been in 3 games and has 7 at-bats. No other projected every-day player has been in more than 2 games so far.

Peculiar no?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The games are underway

The Tribe is 1-1-1 in spring training - a romp in the opener Thursday, a 4-3 loss yesterday and 10-inning tie today against the Tigers.

The first two games were played primarily by minor leaguers and bench players. Today a few more of the regulars played, but Josh Barfield started for the second game in a row at second base, Andy Marte started at 3B and Ben Francisco played in right field.

CC made his spring debut today and got bombed. Two runs and five hits in two inning.

The D-Train made his Tiger debut and gave up three hits and a run in two innings.

Obviously scores don't mean much in the spring, but I do like to watch individual performances, primarily of those players on the bubble or in a battle for a position.

Francicsco had a home and a double and two RBIs today to continue his early hot hitting. Grady and Victor had two hits apiece as they finally got to swing the bat in a game this spring. That's pretty much it on offense.

Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey - competing with one-another (and Cliff Lee) for the last spot in the Tribe's rotation - both pitched a scoreless inning. Invitee Jorge Julio gave up a run on two hits in an inning.

Marte went 0-for-2 today after a rather miserable performance yesterday, when he popped out, grounded weakly to third, fouled out behind home plate and hit a worm killer that was fielded by the catcher for a "ground out." He also mishandled a line drive at third base.

Masa Kobayashi made his Tribe debut yesterday and followed in the tradition set by current Tribe closer Joe Borowski and his predecessor Bob Wickman.

Here's how the Plain Dealer described his inning of work:

A liner off Andy Marte's glove put one runner on. Houston loaded the bases on a slow roller to right and a well-placed infield grounder.

Kobayashi, who said he wanted to be a "little bit nervous" to sharpen his focus, got his wish. He also got the next three Houston hitters in order without allowing a run.

A foul pop. A fly to short center. A strikeout on his best pitch, a slider.

That, for what it's worth, is the update so far from spring training. We'll have more when it happens.