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After years of frustration, Blake wins third base job



Published: Tue, March 25, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He will likely keep the spot until Ricky Gutierrez returns from injury.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Scanning down the list of the American League's top hitters this spring, many of the same names likely to be there during the regular season are already there.

However, one name jumps out, and so does his batting average: Blake, Cle., .477.

"Something doesn't look right here," said Casey Blake, pretending to hold up a newspaper. "Who's this guy Blake?"

Blake, who has spent his career stuck behind bigger names elsewhere, came to spring training hoping to win a starting job at third base.

And in the midst of having a monstrous training camp, the Cleveland Indians had no choice but to give it to him.

Blake will open the season as the Indians' everyday third baseman. He'll stay there until Ricky Gutierrez, currently recovering from off-season neck surgery, returns in late April.

Permanent place

Blake, though, could make third his permanent home if he keeps hitting like has been.

Through Sunday, Blake was batting .477 (21-of-44) with seven doubles, two triples, two homers and 10 RBIs in 17 games.

"Hitting is a lot of luck," he said. "I've been feeling pretty good for a while and hopefully it will continue. I've never broken camp with a team before so this is pretty cool."

Blake was signed in December as a minor league free agent by the Indians, who needed some insurance at third in case Gutierrez couldn't come back.

The 29-year-old had spent the past two seasons playing at Triple A Edmonton in Minnesota's organization. The Twins had no room for Blake because they already had Corey Koskie.

When Blake arrived at the Indians' training complex last month, someone had taped a baseball card of Koskie on Blake's locker as a good-natured joke.

"Corey's actually one of my good friends," Blake said. "He's a great player. What was I going to do?"

Blake had a similar experience with Toronto in 2000. He was possibly in line to win the Blue Jays' starting job at third when the club decided to switch Tony Batista from shortstop to third.

"It was tough," he said. "It gets to the point where you start to wonder, 'Am I ever going to be the guy?"'

Good talent

The Indians scouted Blake most of last season, thinking he could be a good fit as a starter or backup. He batted .309 with 19 homers and 58 RBIs with Edmonton. He also had 24 steals.

"We made him our No. 1 minor league free agent target," said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. "He's been stuck behind players at other places, and we thought he was someone, who at worst, was a stop-gap guy for us."

Blake got the news he had won the starting job from Indians manager Eric Wedge on Sunday, just before the team traveled to Sarasota to play the Cincinnati Reds.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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