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The team's young core is bolstered by Kevin Millwood and other veterans.



Published: Thu, January 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The team's young core is bolstered by Kevin Millwood and other veterans.

LIBERTY -- There are probably many cards packed into their sleek, tailor-trimmed wallets. But despite their "age," the Cleveland Indians veterans who headlined the Tribe's media tour Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Metroplex aren't card-holding AARP members just yet.

Twenty-five-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp and 24-year-old starter C.C. Sabathia fielded many questions about their experience (a combined seven years) relative to the whippersnappers penciled on the depth chart like 23-year-olds Grady Sizemore (outfield) and Jhonny Peralta (shortstop). The youngsters have a little less than three years in their combined major-league portfolios.

Sabathia, who said he is fully recovered from a left hamstring injury, is now full-speed, savvy, and has picked up a couple of things here and there.

"I think last year I would try to out there and get everyone out," Sabathia said. "I'm just getting older and learning."

New additions

The Indians, who went 80-82 last season, have aged veterans as well. The Tribe signed seven key players in the off-season, including 30-year-old Kevin Millwood, an ex-Atlanta Braves pitcher with a 98-64 career record. Cleveland acquired third baseman Aaron Boone, infielder Jose Hernandez, infielder Alex Cora, outfielder Juan Gonzalez, infielder Ronnie Belliard, infielder Alex Cora, and much-needed left-handed pitchers Arthur Rhodes and Scott Sauerbeck to gain a combined 69 years of major-league experience.

Pitching coach Carl Willis said it wasn't until he ate dinner with Millwood recently that he fully understood the intangibles of gaining the ex-Brave. Millwood studied great pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine with a front-row seat.

"To sit and learn just by watching video or to observe Greg Maddux watching his own video -- there are just so many little things you pick up," Willis said.

Millwood and the new bunch still won't take all of the focus away from Crisp, who hit .297 last season, and Sabathia, who went 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA. Crisp said the weird thing is the players have tremendous chemistry and are eager for 2005 despite their various backgrounds.

"Everybody's just ready to go," Crisp said. "These guys are really ready. They've been ready. That's how I felt. It gets boring after a while. You've seen all the movies that have come out."

Division title hopes

The challenge for the Tribe will be living up to the fruits of young talent, Crisp said. The front office has said that the Indians should be in the running for Central Division title this season.

"I feel like we're making the appropriate steps to fulfill that statement that was made," Crisp said.

The Tribe reportedly has the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball even with the off-season spree. The savings came in investing in lesser-known younger players who are just now breaking into the depth chart.

Crisp thinks every addition has bolstered the Tribe's outlook in the division.

"We contended last year and I feel like we're a better ball club this year," Crisp said.

As manager Eric Wedge puts it, the Indians' bounty of youthful experience is unique.

"Our definition of young and the league's is night and day," Wedge said.




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