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Lawton looks good in leadoff spot



Published: Tue, April 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The right fielder was acquired from the Indians in an offseason trade.

By TOM WILLIAMS

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- One of the two new Pirates in Monday's Opening Day starting lineup easily enjoyed the best day.

Right fielder Matt Lawton, who was traded from the Cleveland Indians in December for reliever Arthur Rhodes, hit three consecutive singles in his first at-bats for the Pirates in Monday's 9-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Individually, it was a good day," said Lawton, the Bucs' leadoff hitter. "I wasn't swinging the bat awfully well, but I was able to fist a few out there and had some balls fall.

"That's my job -- to try and work myself on base and get around to score some runs," he said.

Lawton scored both of the Pirates' runs. In the first inning, he came home on Jason Bay's two-out single.

In the fifth inning, Lawton singled with two outs and scored on Tike Redman's base hit.

"He's here to score runs and get on base for us, and he did that," said Bay, the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year who's the Pirates' cleanup hitter. "As [someone] lower in the order, it's nice to have a guy like that above [me.]"

Lawton and 40-year-old catcher Benito Santiago were the veteran newcomers in the Bucs' lineup.

"Matt's a professional in every way," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He swung the bat extremely well and had some darn-good moves on attempts to steal. And he's worked hard on his defense this spring."

History lesson

After the 2001 season, Lawton came to the Indians from the New York Mets in the trade for Roberto Alomar.

Lawton, 33, enjoyed his best of his three seasons in Cleveland in 2004 by batting .277, hitting 20 homers and driving in 70 runs.

His role in Pittsburgh is to jump-start an offense that struggles to score.

McClendon said he doesn't intend to wear out Lawton physically by turning him into Rickey Henderson or Maury Wills.

"If we think it's advantageous and going to give us an opportunity to score runs, sure, we'll run. But we're not going to run just to be running," McClendon said.

"Matt has a tendency to wear down a little bit. We have to make sure we pick and choose the right spots to go as well as try to keep him strong physically throughout the year," McClendon said.

What made Lawton's accomplishment even more impressive is that it came against Brewers ace Ben Sheets.

"That was my first time against Ben Sheets and he had all of his pitches working really well," Lawton said. "He was working both sides of the plate. He threw a great ball game."

"On a personal note, it was a good start," Lawton said of his third fresh start in the majors. "It was good to get those first game jitters out of the way.

"I was nervous in each at-bat. Those things will go away and I can play a little more at ease. We have 161 more and hopefully we will play a little bit better."

Lawton reached the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 1995 then was traded to the Mets during the 2001 pennant race.

Promising future

"It's a great young nucleus -- everybody pulls for each other and you can't ask for anything more," Lawton said of the Pirates. "Guys really want to improve on last season and I think it's going to be a fun team to play with.

"We've got to iron out a few things but as the season goes on, I think we'll get better and better.

Lawton says there are similarities between the Bucs and the Indians.

"They have a lot of good young players over in Cleveland just like this team," Lawton said. "Definitely on Cleveland, they have some great pitching.

"We'll just have to see where our pitching goes. We're only going to go as far as those guys take us. Hopefully we can compare to those guys in Cleveland and if that's the case, we'll have a great time and put up some good numbers."

williams@vindy.com




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