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BASEBALL Indians' wish list includes big hitter



Published: Thu, July 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



With the team in contention, GM Mark Shapiro is searching for a big bat.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Three years ago, when the Indians traded ace Bartolo Colon for prospects, they made a promise to be contenders again in 2005.

Cleveland's 12-18 start this season made general manager Mark Shapiro look like he would have to eat those words.

"I didn't realize what an ambitious goal it was when I said it," Shapiro said.

But the Indians' first-half turnaround, including a 35-23 record since May 9, gives them their first winning record at the All-Star break since 2001.

Although they are 11 games behind Chicago, at 47-41 the Indians are in the hunt for the American League wild card and are keeping Shapiro true to his word.

Cleveland was a season-high 10 games over .500 before stumbling into the All-Star break, losing five of its last six.

"This team has come a long way," closer Bob Wickman said. "If you had told me on June 1 or 2 that a month later we would be nine or 10 games over .500, I would've said, 'No way, pal."'

Solid pitching

Wickman, the team's lone All-Star representative, has been the key to the success of the bullpen, which has the lowest ERA in the AL. He's second in the league with 23 saves -- not bad for a 36-year-old who contemplated retirement in the offseason.

The Indians also have gotten solid pitching from their starting rotation, led by Cliff Lee. But they struggled in April and early May to score runs, which led to their poor start.

"The one thing I will say about this team is that they have shown no quit," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "They had some tough times offensively in the first half, but since May they have been getting it done."

The lineup woke up behind designated hitter Travis Hafner, who hit .345 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs as the AL's player of the month in June. The Indians won nine straight and went 17-10 for the month, putting them solidly above .500 and causing the rest of the league to take notice.

"They're going to be a team to be reckoned with this year and possibly in the future," Boston outfielder Johnny Damon said.

Besides Hafner, the Indians' two youngest hitters, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta, helped lead the offensive resurgence.

"Sizemore and Peralta as two first year players in the big leagues, to do what they've done has been exceptional," Shapiro said. "They've really been two of our most consistent offensive players."

No power

One area that has been lacking in the first half is power from the right side. Juan Gonzalez had only one at-bat before returning to the disabled list and Ryan Ludwick was sent back to the minors.

While Casey Blake and Aaron Boone have showed some home run power, both have struggled with consistency.

"The ideal thing to add to this club would be a middle-of-the-order, right-handed-hitting run producer," Shapiro said. "It's rare that it's so lucid what you need. That is what we need. Whether that is attainable, I don't know."

With many teams still in the playoff race and not a lot of great hitters available, it will be a sellers market come the July 31 trade deadline, Shapiro said.

Cleveland should benefit from a second-half schedule in which only 31 of its 74 games come against teams that are above .500. And 10 of the Indians' final 16 games are against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the two worst teams in the majors.

"It will be advantageous because we won't be facing the same level of pitching night in and night out that we faced thus far," Shapiro said.

Consistent hitting could be the difference in the second half. The Indians are 52-13 when they score four or more runs.

The Indians also need to remain healthy. Aside from Gonzalez, the team has had a relatively injury-free first half.

Another key will be C.C. Sabathia, who entered the season as the team's ace, but has struggled, going 6-5 with a 4.50 ERA.

"My career has really been like a tale of two halves. Sometimes I pitch well in the second half. Sometimes I pitch well in the first half," Sabathia said. "I'm just going to come out after the All-Star break and pitch like I have a clean slate."




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