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From the early days of Spring Training



Russell Branyan looks to be the full-time first baseman for the time being. That would move LaPorta back to left field, and Brantley to Columbus. It's a shame LaPorta is still getting kicked around, but I'll take anything that gets his every-day ABs. Brantley getting demoted would just be a service clock issue, and most people expect him to get called up sooner than later.

The right-handed-hitting LaPorta, who can spell Travis Hafner at the DH spot, if need be, is also on track to be a full-time player, no matter what position he happens to occupy on a given day.


"He's going to get 500 at-bats, if he's healthy," manager Manny Acta said. "That's what's important here."


Choo is signed on with Scott Boras.

When the subject of Boras came up Saturday, Choo's eyes opened wide.


"Hot issue," he said.


Choo said the Indians have yet to approach him about a long-term deal, but he planned to speak with Boras about that possibility. The prospect of signing such a deal with the Indians seems to appeal to Choo, who pointed out that, no matter who is representing him in negotiations, he will have the final say.


"I really want to stay long term," Choo said. "I have good teammates here. A good team. Everything I like. I feel at home here. I like the Indians."


Choo, of course, won't be eligible to explore outside options until after the 2013 season. But if the Indians intend to lock him up through his arbitration years and perhaps into his free-agent eligibility, the Boras affiliation could make matters more interesting.


Like I said earlier, Cabrera and Sizemore are now 1-2 in the order.

Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and designated hitter Travis Hafner will follow Cabrera and Sizemore in Acta's lineup. The rest is not confirmed, though it's probably safe to assume newly acquired first baseman Russell Branyan and third baseman Jhonny Peralta will be somewhere in the middle.


"I'm not going to change my approach in any way," Sizemore said. "[Manny] doesn't want me to. It's just what he thinks is going to help us offensively to score more runs."


Batting in the No. 2 spot should conceivably allow Sizemore to take greater advantage of his power.


"It will give me a chance to have guys on base more often," he said. "If you're leading off a game, you know there's going to be nobody in front of you. If you get those early homers or those early balls in the gap [as a No. 2 hitter], you have a chance to score more runs."


The two pitchers out of minor league options, Sowers and Mitch Talbot, seem to be going in separate directions. Sowers is behind schedule with a sore shoulder, and Talbot is looking for a spot in the rotation.

Talbot, who threw his first bullpen session this morning, said he's excited to be in the rotation mix here. "I knew Tampa wasn't sure what to do with me," he said. "To come over here, where they seem to have a plan for me, is encouraging. With [David] Price and [Wade] Davis, [the Rays'] golden boys, I knew it wasn't looking too good for me, as far as being a starter, and that's what I want to be. I was not really looking forward to being a long reliever and pitching once every two weeks or so. I'm really happy to be here where I can actually compete for a starting spot."


No real word on Hector Ambriz yet.

What the Indians do need to do this spring is get a read on Rule 5 Draft pickup Hector Ambriz. If he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he must be offered back to the Diamondbacks. "Obviously, we have to give the guy an opportunity," Acta said. He said getting a good look at Ambriz will be more important than gauging veterans like Jamey Wright or Jason Grilli, who have more of a track record that can be counted on.


Hector Rondon might be closer than we think.

Hector Rondon threw live BP today. Though it's generally been assumed that Rondon will begin the season in Triple-A, Acta said he considers Rondon part of the rotation battle. "He has a good arm and good life to his fastball," Acta said. "The organization talks about him needing to refine his secondary pitches. He looks like a guy who could get up here based on his fastball and continue to work on his other pitches at this level."


"Real" games kick off Friday.

Justin Masterson will start Friday's Cactus League opener opposite the Reds' Mike Lincoln. That game will be carried live on MLB.TV. Kerry Wood, Aaron Laffey, Rafael Perez, Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Saul Rivera are all scheduled to follow Masterson in that game.



Of course, all quotes from Castrovince in some form. Hopefully everyone knows where to find him by now.

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Great stuff, CIMO. I haven't been able to follow things as closely as I'd like and it's very cool of you to post all of these updates.


I did get a chance to listen to Tom Hamilton interviewed by Kevin Kennedy on Sirius yesterday. When the subject of Choo came up, Hamilton said that he's convinced that Choo is about to become a superstar. The best player on the team, with no disrespect intended towards Grady. When touching on the subject of military obligations, both Hamilton and Kennedy agreed that the hiring of Boras strongly suggests that that won't be an issue. Hope they're right on all accounts!





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I'm still not sure what I think of Choo. Good hitter with power, speed and patience? Sure. Superstar? I don't know. I'd love to see him take that leap to stardom, but I'm more expecting (and happy with) the .300 avg, 20/20 type player.



As for more things....


Lonnie Chisenhall is impressing. He hit a dinger off Fausto, who's working on his mechanics against lefties.

Carmona was, of course, just getting his work in. And his work this spring includes an attempt to gain effectiveness against left-handed hitters by shifting to the first-base side of the rubber.


Manager Manny Acta said he was going to suggest that move to Carmona when he visited him in the Dominican over the winter. But Acta was pleased to find that Carmona's winter ball teammate at Aguilas, Jose Lima, had already made the suggestion.


"It worked for him in winter ball," Acta said. "It was only 13 innings, but it worked. ... Being on that side of the rubber gives him a better opportunity to hit both sides of the plate."


Carmona worked one inning in the intrasquad, and Chisenhall's blast was all that marred it. Carmona struck out Travis Hafner on a nice changeup. And the home run pitch didn't bother Acta, because it came when Carmona was trying to challenge Chisenhall with a first-pitch fastball.


"This kid is walking around the clubhouse like he's been there before, without being cocky or anything," Acta said of Chisenhall. "He's not intimidated by anything. He's just a ballplayer, and he's going to be a nice player for this franchise."


We might've finally found our next Kenny.

Manny Acta took Grady Sizemore out of the Indians' leadoff spot, and that move was viewed as a long time coming.


What wasn't anticipated was Acta slotting designated hitter Travis Hafner into the leadoff spot. It happened for Wednesday's 6 1/2-inning intrasquad game at Goodyear Ballpark, and it had the man known as Pronk reassessing what he brings to the table.


"I must have shown them a few things running sprints," Hafner joked. "I told [starter] Fausto [Carmona] that if he walks me, it's a triple."


After not being able to play 3 days in a row most of last year, Hafner's expected to be back to full duty this year.

When the regular season starts, Acta is expecting to have Hafner available to him on a daily basis, without all the precautions and protections that pervaded Pronk's 2009 season. And when talking about the top of his lineup the other day, Acta mentioned Hafner as his likely cleanup hitter.


Again, the "real" games start Tomorrow, against the Reds.

Here's the lineup the Manny Acta will write out for the opener against the Reds: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, CF Grady Sizemore, RF Shin-Soo Choo, DH Travis Hafner, 3B Jhonny Peralta, LF Jordan Brown, 1B Andy Marte, 2B Luis Valbuena, C Lou Marson. RHP Justin Masterson.


As far as the position players are concerned, that should be pretty close to the real Opening Day lineup, with the obvious exceptions of Brown (Matt LaPorta) and Marte (Russell Branyan). LaPorta, recovering from hip and toe surgeries, isn't scheduled to appear in a Cactus League game until March 10. He initiated a running program today. Branyan, who battled back issues at the end of '09, is currently doing limited work at first base.


With Masterson getting the start, let's hope he picks up where he left off. In case you forgot...



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Masterson looked terrific yesterday. No clue what he'll become, but it's just fun watching the guy pitch.


I wondered why Kearns was in the game after Brown was listed in the lineup. Looks like it could be a month or two before he comes back. Longer than that for Jason Grilli:


Brown to miss 4 to 8 weeks; Grilli could miss entire season

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com


The news wasn't all that great for Jordan Brown or Jason Grilli on Saturday, after the Indians' doctors analyzed their MRI exams.


Brown has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will require arthroscopic surgery in Cleveland next week. He'll miss four to eight weeks of action, so count him out of the competition in the Indians' outfield.


"Hopefully this is a tiny little setback," said Brown, the International League batting champ last year at Columbus. "If anybody is used to tiny little setbacks, it's this guy."


Grilli's injury is no tiny little setback. He has a tear in his right quadriceps, just above the knee, that is likely to require surgery. Grilli, a non-roster invitee who was to be a veteran bullpen option for the Tribe, could miss the entire 2010 season. Upon the Indians' request, he'll receive a second opinion on the quadriceps injury before it's determined whether he'll have the surgery.





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  • 2 weeks later...

More things...


Russell Branyan is still dealing with his bad back. (3/10)

Acta said Branyan is taking ground balls at first base and taking swings as part of a "gradual" process of gearing up for the season. But where, just a few days ago, Acta was ready to announce Branyan's timetable for appearing in an exhibition game, the manager did not offer such a timetable Wednesday.


So far, the Branyan situation reminds me a little bit of '07, when the Indians signed Trot Nixon, and he arrived to camp barely able to move following back surgery. Nixon slowly eased his way into action and, of course, was able to assume his position as the Tribe's regular right fielder at the start of the season. The Indians obviously expect Branyan to be ready, as well, though I wouldn't classify Wednesday's change in plans as a great first step.


Fausto and Westbrook are trying to make the comeback (3/12)

Westbrook was making his second start of the spring. And though his line wasn't any better than his first time out, he was in and around the zone much more consistently. He was charged with four runs on three hits with a walk and three strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings of work. Fausto Carmona came on in the third and looked sharp in his Cactus debut, efficiently working his way through three innings in which he allowed just one hit while striking out one.


Said Westbrook: "I gave up four runs, but I feel 100 percent better than when I gave up one run the last outing. I feel so much better, confidence-wise." Why? Because Westbrook was in and around the zone much more consistently in this start, and he feels he's getting good action on his sinker. Plus, his arm feels great, which is obviously a plus. "It starts with getting my mechanics solidified," he said. "What I'm hoping is to get stronger and better each time out."


Masterson still looking good. His changeup has been the big story of the spring to help him against left handed hitters. (3/13)

Justin Masterson was masterful on the mound against Texas, giving up one unearned run on three hits while striking out six in 3 2/3 innings. He credited a steady dose of changeups, his fastball and good command of his sinker for the effective outing. Masterson now sports a 1.29 ERA this spring.


Injury news (3/15)

Wood was expected to throw a bullpen session Monday and appear against the Reds on Wednesday. That was the word from Wood himself, anyway. But on Monday, manager Manny Acta announced that Wood did not throw that bullpen, and Acta did not offer a timetable for Wood's return to exhibition action.


"We're going to take it easy with Kerry," Acta said. "The medical staff will put together a plan for him. We want to be careful. He's our closer. He has plenty of time to get ready, and there's no reason to rush him back out there." It bears repeating that this could simply be a little spring soreness that will go away with extra rest. That was the case when Wood experienced similar soreness early in camp last year.


In other injury news, left-hander Jeremy Sowers is expected to make his Cactus debut Thursday against the Reds, working two innings. Sowers has been counted out of the rotation race because of the left shoulder soreness that has him behind in camp. Because he is out of Minor League options, and the Indians value him as a potential starting alternative, it appears likely Sowers will open the season on the disabled list so that he can be sufficiently stretched out.


Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, nursing a strained left groin, is taking dry swings and is not expected to return to Cactus action until late this week, at the earliest.


Mixed feelings on Carlos Carrasco.

On Saturday, Carrasco struggled in his Cactus League debut, giving up three runs on six hits in three innings in a 5-0 loss to the Rangers. He struck out one batter.


"He had a tough time keeping the ball down in the zone and that was the problem when he came up last year, too," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But you know? We love Carlos. He's got great stuff. He's only 22-years old. That's a senior in college. We love the kid and we are going to keep throwing him out there. He's part of our future."


Sowers is out of the opening rotation race, Mitch Talbot is not.

Talbot worked three innings against the Sox(3/09), allowing a run on two hits with two strikeouts and a hit batter. Five of the nine outs he recorded were on fly balls, which is a little disconcerting, especially to Talbot. "I'm not a fly-ball pitcher at all," he said. "I usually get a lot of groundballs ... This is blowing my mind."

Manny Acta thought Talbot's ability to change speeds might have contributed to the fly balls. He felt the hitters he was getting the hitters out in front with his changeup.

Talbot pitched 3 perfect innings today with 3 Ks and 4 groundouts, only 2 fly balls.

Talbot seemed to have his best changeup, and then some, today. He was so efficient against the Brewers that he had to throw 20 extra pitches in the bullpen, so that Rafael Perez could get into the game. "He's flying high right now," Acta said of Talbot.


And the bullpen...(3/15)

Speaking of the bullpen, Acta has confirmed jobs for Wood, Chris and Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp. That leaves several guys (Hector Ambriz, Jensen Lewis, Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright) competing for two spots, with the potential for Talbot and, to a lesser degree, Laffey, to enter that mix.



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Looks like Chris Perez will take over as closer to start the season.


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Kerry Wood may miss the first two months of the season after an MRI revealed a strained latissimus muscle as the source of the pain under his right shoulder.


Describing the injury, a recurring Spring Training issue for the 32-year-old reliever, as a "moderate strain," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff pegged Wood's absence at "six-to-eight weeks from when the MRI was taken," which was on Thursday.


"That is the time we estimate he will be back in a Major League game," added Soloff, who expects Wood to begin playing light catch in 10-14 days.


Chris Perez, the hard-throwing 23-year-old, inherits Wood's closing duties in the short term.


Hurrah. Good for Perez, bad for trade value, depth, etc.

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Talbot's still fighting. Could Shapiro have found another steal for a soon-to-be-too-expensive-and-unnecessary player?


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The showdown for the remaining spots in the Indians' starting rotation isn't a duel in the desert -- but only because there are more than two pitchers involved.


The three shooting it out ratcheted up the competition the last two days.


On Friday, Aaron Laffey threw four blanks at Texas.


Saturday, Mitch Talbot fired 3 1/3 zeroes at Oakland before emptying his chamber. A little later in the Cactus League game against the A's, David Huff went four innings and allowed three runs.


On the surface, Talbot appeared to get the best of Huff in their pitch-off in Cleveland's 12-4 victory.


However, manager Manny Acta sounded as if he gave the decision to Huff, on style points.


"Talbot wasn't as sharp as he was the last time, but he did make pitches when he had to. Too bad he ran out of pitches," Acta said, alluding to Talbot having reached his pitch limit by the time he struck out Corey Brown for the first out in the fourth.


"Huff stayed aggressive and continued to pound the strike zone," Acta added, discounting the home runs off the lefty by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Matt Carson.


The alphabetical scorecard with two weeks remaining in Spring Training:


• Huff: 12 1/3 innings, 10 runs allowed -- four walks and six strikeouts.


• Laffey: 10 2/3 innings, five runs -- four walks and five strikeouts.


• Talbot: 11 1/3 innings, one run -- one walk and seven strikeouts.


Acta's handicap?


"Everyone's tied for first," the manager said. "We'll make the decision at the end of Spring Training."



I have to think Talbot's pretty much guaranteed one of the rotation spots by this point. It seems kind of cheap not to give Huff another chance after leading the team in wins last year, but I'd go with Laffey for the next spot. Like I always say with Laffey, I just think he has more to offer as a back of the rotation innings-eater type with the ground ball, double play potential. But with Wood now out, it might make more sense to give the rotation spot to Huff and stick Laffey in the bullpen again.


Of course, Westbrook's arm could fall off and Fausto could keep tinkering with mechanics in the Dominican or something and this will all be irrelevant.

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I meant to post this one earlier. Nothing too mind blowing, but a look at Acta and Belcher's pitching philosophy that's been paying off for some of the guys so far.


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The late-February reporting date had the proverbial groups checking into the Indians' Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz.: Pitchers and catchers and sabermetricians.


New manager Manny Acta, having spent much of the winter frowning his way through the 2009 record books, and pitching coach Tim Belcher came to camp with a message: Turn the tables in your favor by not being afraid to throw strikes, and early.


How well that message was delivered -- and received -- is reflected in the Indians' spring pitching, which has been borderline miraculous. It has been well-documented that Spring Training pitching performances are largely irrelevant, but they are still relative among all the teams, and the Indians are sticking out in the high-octane Cactus League.


The Tribe pulled into Scottsdale Stadium for Friday's visit to the Giants with a staff ERA (3.56) more than a run lower than the Cactus League runner-up (Texas, 4.57). Through Thursday, the 14 other Cactus League staffs had an average ERA of 5.15.


Justin Masterson dulled that glare a little, allowing six runs in his 3 1/3-inning stint to set up a 7-6 loss to San Francisco, but he recalled Acta's early sermon and its impact.


"I've been told about the importance of throwing strike one ever since college," said the product of San Diego State -- Stephen Strasburg U. "It all makes sense, and it's reinforced by the experiences you have."


Foremost, the numbers Acta studied had revealed an unsavory combination: Cleveland pitchers had the second-fewest strikeouts and the second-most walks among the 14 American League staffs. For Acta, it was a short leap from those ranks to the Indians being hit at a .280 pace and falling 11 runs short of allowing the most in the Majors -- and, by extension, to their 97 losses.


"Even during the winter, we kept in touch with them and told them how important it is to pitch from ahead. But we didn't just want to give them ABC-type of advice," Acta said. "Like, it's not enough to tell them to get ahead, you have to show them why it's important.


"So I wanted to make the point by showing them some numbers they probably weren't even familiar with."


So, cue the lecture. ...


"We had a meeting early on," Acta said, "showing them the difference between making pitches at 1-and-0 or 3-and-1 and 0-and-1, reminding them that even the best hitters make an out seven out of 10 times.


"The problem here was ... you can't have sinkerball pitchers walking people. It's a confidence thing -- but numbers don't lie."


The favorite set of numbers in Acta's dossier, and the one that elicited the most wide-eyed reaction, showed that of the first-pitch strikes put into play, only seven percent resulted in hits.


That's seven percent, as in a batting average of .070.


Powerful incentive for pitchers to not start off batters by pitching away from them, afraid of making too good a pitch too early in the count.


"And [it's] a good way to conserve pitches," Acta said. "You stay longer in the game. You help out the bullpen arms. But it's not enough to keep telling them that. You have to show them the numbers."


After having heard the advice throughout his pitching career, Masterson finally had the printout proofs in his hands during Acta's sermon.


"Numbers can get skewed," Masterson said, "but in one sense, it was cool, seeing the results laid out.


"I mean, you know that with the count 1-and-0, the hitter has extra confidence. Hitting is hard, and if they get in a situation where they feel better, they get more comfortable. But if you're ahead of them, they're more likely to swing at a pitch in the dirt."


That's straight out of Pitching 101, of course. But to get his hurlers into that strike-throwing mindset, Acta suggests some advanced approaches.


"I try to get them to sit behind the screen during batting practices," the manager said. "They'll see the batting-practice pitcher throwing 50 [mph], and every ball still doesn't get hit out. It's not that easy."


Through 13 exhibitions, the eight pitchers competing for the five spots in the Indians' rotation have logged 41 strikeouts versus 15 walks -- a ratio considerably different from last season's 986-to-598.


Even after being hit hard -- a stumble he attributed to sliders that broke too late and necessary work on his changeup -- Masterson remained the best practitioner of the Indians' new, aggressive mindset. One walk and four strikeouts Friday gave the 25-year-old right-hander three walks and 16 strikeouts in his 10 1/3 innings.


Acta expects him to keep showing the way once the whistle blows and games count. Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona have more extensive resumes that they are trying to revive, but Masterson is fresher ace timbre.


"I expect a lot from him," Acta said. "He can be that workhorse-type of guy."


And Masterson wants it, both the role and the responsibility.


"Being the workhorse is the coolest thing," he said. "You can be the one who starts to set the tone, and that can lead only to good things."


Couple of quick notes...


Talbot seems all but locked up as the #4 starter. Carrasco entered the conversation for #5 with Laffey and Huff. Acta says it's a "tie for first".


Fausto's allowed 5 hits and 2 walks in 13 innings.




And an update -


Talbot officially in the rotation, Laffey to the bullpen (I like it), Huff and Carrasco competing for last rotation spot.

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Huff is definitely a the favorite for the #5, but it's encouraging to see Carasco enter the conversation. He's pitched alright this spring and with the stuff he's got if he ever puts it all together I can see him being a pretty solid starter.


Also our bullpen depth is going to be a strength this year. When/if Wood gets healthy and pushes Perez out of the closer role, we have Wood, Perez, Perez, Lewis, Sipp, Todd, Smith, Laffey etc.. If we did one thing last year with our trades hopefully it was bolstering our bullpen for years to come.


I don't know if you've posted this but Carmona's permanent catcher this year is going to be Mark Redmond. As it seems in every spring, Carmona is pitching pretty well so far. They are saying that his sinker/slider combo is working so well that he probably won't use his changeup extensively until the third time through the order. Hopefully he can bounce back this year.


I like the looks of our defense too. Especially when we play Laporta at first and Brantley in the outfield. Up the middle we are very strong. Cabrera and Valbuena are a very good infield double-play tandem and obviously Sizemore is spectacular. Our outfield with Brantley and Choo is going to be very good also. This might be our best defensive year since the Vizquel, Alomar, Alomar, Lofton years.


It's only spring but it's a lot more encouraging than last year's spring was even though last years expectations were higher.

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Yep. I can't say I have the best memory, but I really can't remember Wedge (or Willis even) taking a pro-active role in trying to fix Fausto. Seemed like just an awful lot of "We hope he can get back to '07 Fausto" and "He just needs to stay calm." Who knows how it will work out when the games start counting, but I love that both Acta and Belcher are both trying to actually turn him into a consistent pitcher, while admitting that the truly dominant '07 version is probably long gone.


With his game, he doesn't have to get cute, he just has to throw strikes. With this new coaching staff....for whatever reason, it seems like that message is finally getting through.


And looking at the boxscore, it looks like he mowed down Arizona's B squad in true Fausto fashion today, if he is done. 7 innings, 0 runs, 0 walks, 3 hits, 3 K's. One double play. 12 groundouts to 6 fly outs. I have faith.


I don't have as much faith as you in Valbuena though. Or the rest of the defense, really. It may very well become the best defense since the 90s, but it's pretty close to sacrilege to compare the two right now.


I was on the Valbuena bandwagon for a while last year, but I'm ready to go with Jason Donald. Just seems like a much more complete player as a long-term option.



I think the bullpen's pretty iffy, too. It should be much better than last year's strategy of throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck (especially, you know, when nothing stuck). Just having some real power arms that can miss bats is a step in the right direction, and I love Laffey in the pen. But still too many question marks right now. Definitely the potential for something great though.

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I didn't mean to compare this defense the the 90's defense, but our defense has been fairly poor post Vizquel. I don't know if Valbuena is a good enough hitter to be the long term everyday 2nd baseman but I think he is a very good defender.


Let's just say Cabrera-Valbuena is a lot better than Peralta-Belliard.


I'm hoping with our bullpen that we have so many arms that there will be at least 4 or 5 good ones by the end of the year. I agree with you that none of the bullpen guys are certain but I think we have enough of them that we will have a good bull-pen. In the future, though, our bull-pen has the potential to be dominant.



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That sounds better. Saying this is the best defense since the 90s is just too much like saying Kelly Holcomb (or DA, or whoever) is the best Browns quarterback since Bernie Kosar. After Cabrera and Sizemore, I don't see any real studs. And seeing Gutierrez help transform Seattle's D into one of the best in baseball doesn't ease my worries too much.


But like you said, at least there are no Ronnie Belliards or Trot Nixons on this team. And it's obviously a plus to have our two best defensive players playing the toughest defensive positions with Cabrera and Grady.

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So much for Russell Branyan's spring. He'll start the year on the 15-day DL.


What that means for the composition of the Opening Day roster won't be known until Thursday, when manager Manny Acta is expected to announce his decision on all the Tribe's remaining spring battles.


Branyan is supposed to be the Tribe's first baseman this season, but he won't be starting the season opener on April 5 in Chicago because of a herniated disc in his lower back. That leaves Matt LaPorta at first base, and left field -- the spot LaPorta is slated to occupy, once Branyan's aboard -- wide open for Austin Kearns, Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe.


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And another helpful bit from Castro...


If I had to guess, I'd say your Opening Day roster looks (something) like this:


Starters (5): Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Huff, Mitch Talbot


Relievers (7): Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Aaron Laffey, Joe Smith, Lewis, Wright.


Catchers (2): Lou Marson, Mike Redmond.


Infielders (6): Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Marte, Grudzielanek.


Outfielders (4): Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley, Kearns.


Designated Hitter (1): Travis Hafner.


Disabled List (4): Russell Branyan, Jeremy Sowers, Kerry Wood, Anthony Reyes (60-day).


If I'm right, the Indians will have to make roster room for three guys -- Wright, Grudzielanek and Kearns. Obviously, they can remove Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz. As for the other two spots, well, that's why Mark Shapiro makes the big bucks.


How accurate are my predictions? We'll find out Thursday. That's when Acta is expected to announce the roster.

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Yeah, that would be my guess - assuming Brantley stays up.


And pretty cool, Peter Gammons picks us as one of 6 "teams to watch" this season.


5. Indians

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the economy and demographics are bad, season tickets are down to 8,000 ... Kerry Wood is already hurt ...


But this has been a very encouraging spring with Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona all looking as if they're all the way back physically.


Westbrook and Carmona are really important. Westbrook averaged 15 wins from 2004 to 2006 before he got hurt, and he looks close to his old self. Carmona has allowed one run all spring and looked very much like the guy who was fourth in the Cy Young balloting in 2007, when the Indians were one win from the World Series.


If they can get 400 innings from Westbrook and Carmona, the pressure is lessened for Justin Masterson (who still may end up a closer), David Huff and Mitch Talbot, with Aaron Laffey in the shadows and Carlos Carrasco coming off the kind of spring that gives them second-half hope. Those innings lighten the load on the bullpen, as they find out if Chris Perez can close.


If the pitching holds up, the Tribe will be back in the hunt with the Twins, White Sox and Tigers. Because they are going to score runs.


Asdrubal Cabrera will take his .308 average into the leadoff position. He rated near the top among offensive shortstops at the age of 23 last season.


Sizemore played through a hernia and bone chips the size of his fingernail and is completely healthy, which means he'll be one of the best players in the game. Manny Acta is batting him second, as it was pointed out to him that using his best player in the leadoff position means that if he starts 150 games, that means at least 150 times -- "A quarter of his at-bats," says Acta -- he comes up with no one on base. Acta remains the only manager who ever laid a VORP on me, and is a very bright, open man.


Then comes Shin-Soo Choo, one of the All-Star-level players few know.


Then Travis Hafner. Now, they expected Sizemore would be back. But Hafner at 32? Before his shoulder went, Hafner was the David Ortiz of his time. From 2004 to 2006, he hit 114 homers and in '06 had a 1.098 OPS; the last three years, he hit 45 homers and saw his OPS fall to .628 and .825.


But this spring, he has hit monstrous home runs, and even more important has regained his eye.


"When I was hurt and afraid I couldn't catch up to some pitches, I lost what I had developed in terms of never being afraid to hit with two strikes," says Hafner. "That allowed me to sit and wait for what I hit. But I couldn't turn on balls, and I became afraid to get to two strikes, so I was waving at the first pitch I saw. I feel just the way I did before I got hurt. With me, the best way to judge how I feel is watch how I take pitches."


They have Matt LaPorta at first, Michael Brantley in left, and some very good hitting prospects coming. It's not Sizemore's fault Cleveland hasn't had a champion in generations. But that and the crashing of the Greater Cleveland economy makes their comeback more difficult, necessitating the smallest payroll in the division.


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Big day for roster decisions.



Michael Brantley is the starting left fielder.


Jeremy Sowers cleared waivers and was sent to Columbus.


Jensen Lewis and Jamey Wright fill out the bullpen (with C Perez, R Perez, Smith, Sipp, Laffey)


Grudzielanek and Marte both make the team as backup infielders (middle and corner, respectively)


Austin Kearns will be the fourth outfielder.


Hector Ambriz is still a member of the team, he'll start the season on the DL.


Trevor Crowe and Wyatt Torregas were sent back to Columbus.




All this from Castro



That only leaves the 5th rotation spot, which Huff seems to be clinching right now. He's through 5 innings against the White Sox big league lineup, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks and 1 run.

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