Tribe enduring rough spring

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. _ 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," said manager Charlie Manuel. "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 suffered a torn 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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