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INDIANS Boone says he's ready for opener



Published: Tue, February 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The third baseman missed all of last season after surgery to repair injured knee.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Indians third baseman Aaron Boone, who missed last year because of a knee injury, should be ready to play when Cleveland begins its exhibition season on March 3.

"I'm feeling good and this was a bad day," Boone said Sunday after he took ground balls, practiced batting and ran the bases.

Before camp opened, manager Eric Wedge talked about working Boone slowly into exhibition games and it sounded like he would not be able to play until mid-March.

Now, Boone figures to play two or three innings in the exhibition opener.

"We're going to manage the volume of work Aaron does early in camp, but he's doing fine," head trainer Lonnie Soloff said.

Boone, 31, who hit the game-winning home run for the Yankees in the 2003 AL championship series, tore ligaments in his left knee during a pickup game of basketball in January 2003. After his injury, New York terminated his contract.

He had surgery in February 2003 and again in August. He signed a two-year, $3.6 million contract with the Indians in June.

Successful return needed

The Indians are counting on a healthy Boone along with several veterans acquired in the offseason to help the team contend for the AL Central title this year after last season's collapse.

The Indians closed to within one game of the Minnesota Twins after beating them 7-1 on Aug. 14, but then lost nine straight games to fall out of contention.

"We hit a wall mentally and physically," Wedge said.

During the offseason, the Indians signed infielders Alex Cora and Jose Hernandez and right-handed pitcher Kevin Millwood and traded for left-hander Arthur Rhodes.

Boone, Hernandez, Millwood, Rhodes and Cora have played in the postseason.

"They're veterans who have experience in big games," reliever Rafael Betancourt said. "With the experience we gained as a team last year, that's going to help us."

The Indians went 7-12 against Minnesota last year and will have to do better against the Twins this year to contend.

"I view the Twins as the favorites and there's good reason for them to be so," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "I do think we have a chance, but right now that's all it is ... a chance. We have to take it on the field."

Closer Bob Wickman believes the division is wide open.

"The goal is to win the division and see what happens from there," he said.

Notes

The Indians put left-handed pitcher Jason Stanford on the 60-day disabled list following elbow surgery last July and replaced him on the 40-man roster with outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who signed a minor league contract with the Indians in January.

The Indians have agreed to one-year contracts with pitchers Cliff Bartosh, Jake Dittler, Brian Tallet, Betancourt, Stanford and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.




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