McDonald defends post

John McDonald believes he is ready for the challenge of Brandon Phillips.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- John McDonald knows it takes more than hard work to be the Cleveland Indians' everyday second baseman. So he works extra hard.
"This is the first time I've had the chance to be a starter here," McDonald said Thursday, on the one-year anniversary of his having an emergency appendectomy. "I worked out all winter, I'm stronger and I know I've progressed since last season. I can feel it."
McDonald batted .250 in his first extended stay in the majors last season, starting at second the last two months after Ricky Gutierrez was sidelined with a serious neck injury.
To keep the job, McDonald must hold off the challenge of 21-year-old Brandon Phillips, regarded as the organization's top position prospect.
In camp early
So McDonald, 28, arrived in camp 20 days ahead of schedule.
"I know I must play well and I intend to," he said. "It's exciting to know you have a chance to win a job, that you can contribute and help your team."
Manager Eric Wedge said shortly after being hired last fall that the second base job was "Johnny Mac's to lose."
McDonald must take advantage of his chances at bat, while Wedge and his staff will be watching Phillips learn a new position.
With nine-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel at shortstop, the Indians switched Phillips to second shortly after acquiring him from Montreal last summer in the deal that sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos.
McDonald said he saw what an off-season conditioning program did for Vizquel's hitting a year ago, and tried a similar program. Vizquel had career highs of 14 homers and 72 RBIs in 2002.
"I didn't do as much weight training as Omar, but the idea was the same," McDonald said. "I'm stronger, but I'm not out to hit home runs. I want to drive the ball on a line, into the gap. If a line drive goes out, fine. But I don't want to hit any fly balls."
McDonald still spends countless hours taking plenty of grounders at second, short and third to fine-tune his exceptional fielding ability.
Invariably, right next to him at the second-base bag is Phillips, and McDonald is often seen working with the flashy rookie.
"Why not?" McDonald said. "Let's face it, Brandon Phillips is a great talent and is going to be part of this team for a long time. If I can help him get better, our team is better. When I was younger, Omar and Robbie Alomar worked with me and I know how much that helped."
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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