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CLEVELAND INDIANS Outfielder's style differs from Crisp's approach


Published: Tue, March 7, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


Michaels hit .323 against left-handed pitchers last year.
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Jason Michaels didn't play enough in Philadelphia to gain much of a following. In Cleveland, he's expected to replace a fan favorite.
"I'm excited to be with the Indians," the 29-year-old outfielder said Monday before boarding the team bus for an exhibition game in Port St. Lucie against the Mets.
"It's a great opportunity for me."
The Indians acquired Michaels from the Phillies for left-hander Arthur Rhodes on Jan 27. That set the stage for trading popular Coco Crisp to Boston in a multiplayer swap a few hours later.
Michaels hit .304 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 289 at-bats while platooning with ex-Indian Kenny Lofton in center for the Phillies a year ago. Crisp hit .300 with 16 homers and 69 RBIs.
"I know I can play every day and be productive," Michaels said. "Playing regular, I'm more comfortable, a better hitter, a smarter player."
Manager Eric Wedge said Michaels' style should fit right into the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
"I just want him to do what he's been doing," Wedge said. "He's a hard-nosed guy, the type you hate playing against but love to have on your team."
Michaels has a different offensive approach than the free-swinging Crisp, who had 44 walks and .345 on-base percentage in 594 at-bats a year ago.
Michaels also had 44 walks in 305 fewer at-bats for a .399 on-base mark in 2005.
"One thing I can control is being patient and putting in a good at-bat," he said.
"If the pitch is there, hit it hard. If not, work the count."
The Indians believe the right-hander can help shore up a team weakness. Cleveland batted only .255 against left-handed pitchers in 2005; Michaels hit .323 against lefties.
Harassing the new guy
Right-fielder Casey Blake knows that some fans are upset that Crisp, his .300 average and infectious smile are gone.
So Blake, the team's resident put-down artist, tries to prepare his new teammate for what may transpire in left field at Jacobs Field on opening day.
When coach Joel Skinner sent a fly ball down the left-field line during workouts, Michaels battled the glaring sun, ran and ran, but couldn't quite make a shoestring catch in foul ground.
"Coco would've had it," Blake yelled out.
Skinner then lined a ball to left-center. Michaels scrambled to stop it on one hop before making a strong throw to second base.
It was exactly the play Skinner wanted to see, yet Blake needled: "Coco dives and gets that one. Where's Coco?"
Michaels shrugged it all off.
"I've heard a lot worse," he said. "When you're playing hard, you shut things out and focus.
"Coco is a good player, but the only things I worry about are the game, my offense and the way I play the field. The fans have every right to feel the way they want. If I do something wrong, they should boo. I'd boo myself."
He's heard nothing but cheers so far in exhibition games. Fans crowd around the players entrance to Chain of Lakes ballpark asking for his autograph. Michaels gladly complies.
Michaels hopes fans don't consider him a troublemaker, despite his arrest last July for punching a police officer after leaving a Philadelphia nightspot at 3 a.m. He was sentenced to six months' probation and 100 hours of community service with the Police Athletic League.
"There's two sides to every story, but all I can say is that it is over and done," Michaels said.
General manager Mark Shapiro vouches for the outfielder.
"Character is very important to us, so to say we did an extensive background check on Jason would be an understatement," Shapiro said. "We read the police report and talked to everyone involved. We feel it was a mistake on Jason's part, but an isolated incident."


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