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Westbrook signs deal with Indians



Published: Tue, January 25, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Right-hander agreed to two-year contract worth $7.5 million.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Jake Westbrook quickly went from emergency starter to Cleveland's ace.

Westbrook, who became an All-Star and won a team-high 14 games last season after switching from the bullpen, agreed to a $7.5 million, two-year contract with the Indians on Monday and avoided salary arbitration.

The 27-year-old Westbrook began 2004 as the Indians' long reliever before an injury to Jason Stanford thrust the right-hander into the starting rotation. He responded by going 14-9 with a 3.38 ERA in 30 starts, surprising the club and himself.

"It's very satisfying," Westbrook said. "Hopefully, I can duplicate it -- if not do better. The best part of last year was that it showed me what I can do. I got real confident."

While C.C. Sabathia struggled and youngsters Cliff Lee and Jason Davis had ERAs over 5.00, Westbrook was a model of consistency from late April on. He finished with five complete games, tying for the league lead.

Cleveland never expected that type of season from Westbrook, who pitched well enough in spring training to earn a starting spot. However, his versatility as a reliever was more of a priority for the club.

Turning point

Westbrook's season took a sudden turn on April 19 when he pitched seven perfect innings in relief of Jeff D'Amico following a rain delay. Six days later, Stanford's injury gave Westbrook his first start and he made the most of it, tossing a complete game in a 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.

During a three-game span that month, Westbrook retired 27 straight batters, the equivalent of a nine-inning perfect game.

"That's my own little stat right there," he said proudly.

Westbrook went 0-3 over a span of six starts from June 19 to July 15, but he bounced back by winning five straight decisions. He finished third in the league in ERA, the first Cleveland pitcher that high since Charles Nagy in 1996.

Indians manager Eric Wedge was most impressed by Westbrook's quiet confidence. He wasn't discouraged by not opening the season as a starter, and when his chance came to shine, Westbrook did.

"He had a silent resolve all year," Wedge said. "Once he came in, he wasn't going to let (starting) go and that was good to see. He ran with it."

Capable rotation

With Westbrook, Sabathia, Lee, and newly signed Kevin Millwood, the Indians think they have a starting nucleus capable of keeping them in contention in the AL Central. Cleveland's bullpen will have to be better, though.

Westbrook thinks a little internal competition can be healthy.

"I think we're going to feed off each other," said Westbrook, who is unconcerned about where he fits in the order. "I think that will help us a lot. C.C.'s still our ace. It doesn't matter where I pitch."

Westbrook was the last of three Indians players eligible for arbitration. David Riske and Casey Blake agreed to contracts last week.

Westbrook joined the Indians in 2000 in a trade from the New York Yankees. He is 26-28 with a 4.37 ERA in 64 career starts.

His contract calls for a a $2.9 million salary this year and $4.25 million in 2006. Cleveland has a $5.6 million option for 2007 with a $350,000 buyout, and the option price would rise to $5.8 million if he pitches 200 innings in 2006 and to $6.1 million if he pitches 210 innings that year. In addition, the buyout would go up to $600,000 if he pitches 180 innings this season.

There are additional escalators if he finishes among the top five in Cy Young Award voting.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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