Indians to rely on youth

Associated Press Published:

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. _ Cleveland Indians pitchers and catchers are ready for their first workout of spring training at Chain of Lakes Park Saturday.

Improved pitching is crucial to a team that likely will have less run production in 2002.

The past two seasons under manager Charlie Manuel, the Indians have been known more for hitting than pitching, defense and baserunning.

So how big of a change will there be?

"I guarantee you we're going to hit," Manuel said. "Our young guys will hit."

A lot of big bats are gone. Robbie Alomar was traded. Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton and Marty Cordova left through free agency. Young players like Alex Escobar, Milton Bradley and Russell Branyan will be asked to pick up the slack.

But Manuel is still confident.

"I think it's going to be more fun to manage this year," he said. "We don't have that set lineup now."

Much of the offensive worries can be calmed if the pitchers come through.

"We have a lot of ifs," said first-year general manager Mark Shapiro. "More than we've had in the past. But none that are insurmountable."

Including No. 1 starter Bartolo Colon, 26, the Indians could have four pitchers 26 or younger in the rotation this year with C.C. Sabathia (21), Danys Baez (24) and Ryan Drese (25).

"We're building around young pitching," Manuel said.

Shapiro believes the bullpen may be the strongest part of the team. He expects David Riske, Jerrod Riggan or Mark Wohlers to replace Baez, who spent last season in relief.

As for Jaret Wright and Charles Nagy, who have pitched little over the last two years because of injuries, Manuel said both will be given a chance to make the club.

"I think everyone in Cleveland is pulling for Charlie," Manuel said. "I know Jaret wants to start, but we want him to pitch one good inning, then two good innings out of the bullpen. There's nothing wrong with a little competition."

Position players report Tuesday with full-team workouts beginning next Thursday. The exhibition season starts Feb. 28 against the Minnesota Twins.

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