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Tribe notes: Growing pains
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07/24/2003  6:22 PM ET 
Tribe notes: Growing pains
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Victor Martinez has struggled with the bat since being called up from Triple-A. (Ed Betz/AP)
CLEVELAND -- The average doesn't look like much. How could it?

Catcher Victor Martinez, the hitting jewel in the Indians farm system, carries around a .220 average that more befits a baseball journeyman. His five RBIs and zero homers might not inspire much belief that he's the middle-of-the-diamond hitter that the Tribe has trumpeted for the past three seasons.

Has the organization misjudged the 25-year-old Martinez?

Absolutely not, Indians manager Eric Wedge said. Wedge said he expected a period of adjustment for Martinez, who had feasted on minor league pitchers the past two or three seasons.

But guys like Bartolo Colon, Roger Clemens and, believe it or not, Tigers right-hander Nate Cornejo present a whole different challenge for Martinez, who has not caught up with their arsenal of pitches yet.

"That's kind of par for the course," Wedge said. "We figured the offense would come later, but I know he can hit. He'll hit up here. The offense will come."

Martinez seems to have the same view. He's not letting his Mario Mendoza-like numbers temper his enjoyment of life in the Majors. For he knows he has plenty yet to learn, and not just about the art of hitting.

But the learning is going well, he said. He's becoming a more polished catcher; he's becoming more capable of calling a game, which is central to his development as a Major League catcher.

"I feel much better with my throwing, and my blocking mechanics," he said as he sat at his locker stall. "That's one of the things I was working on in Spring Training and down at (Triple-A) Buffalo."

That work has shown itself to Martinez, and now he waits for his bat to show itself as well. But he doesn't seem to be stressing over any of it. He's in the big leagues, and that's enough to savor for a rookie.

"I never thought it was gonna be like this," he said, his eyes scanning the clubhouse around him. "It's pretty nice, I think. I'm just enjoying it. I'm trying to keep it up and working hard."

Injury report Wedge said the Indians should know more about shortstop Omar Vizquel's knee problem Friday. If the veteran shortstop needs surgery, he'll be out for the season. ... Wedge gave an update on Matt Lawton's condition. Wedge said Lawton, who has a dislocated right finger, is working out, but he's not able to take swings. Wedge said Lawton would probably be idle until the middle of next month.

Did you know? Eddie Murray, the Tribe's hitting coach, is No. 2 on the all-time list for career grand slams. Murray had 19. Lou Gehrig tops the list with 23.

More on Murray: The village of Cooperstown, N.Y., will be the focus of the baseball world this weekend as the Hall of Fame welcomes its Class of 2003, which includes Murray and Gary Carter. Officials expect 44 Hall of Fame members to return for the induction ceremonies. Among the returnees will be former Indians Bob Feller, Gaylord Perry, Dave Winfield and Phil Niekro.

Hits keep on coming: Though sidelined for the season, Ellis Burks is still getting hits. Baseball officials told the Indians that Burks has been credited with a single for the game May 24 at Boston. Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was first given an error in the top of the sixth inning on a chopper down the line at Fenway Park. The Indians submitted the play to the league for review and potential reversal, which happened. Burks now ends the '03 season hitting .263 (52-for-198).

Down on the farm: At Single-A Burlington, right-hander Adam Miller, a top pick in the June draft, is 0-1 with 3.75 ERA. ... At Triple-A Buffalo, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, the Tribe's No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft, is 2-6 with a 7.48 ERA, but his struggles are not a concern, so said Tribe GM Mark Shapiro. "He's pitching exactly the same way he was at Double-A," Shapiro said. The mistakes he's making are hittable fastballs right over the middle of the plate. This is a very big part of the learning process for him."

Tribe tidbits: On its six-game road trip, the Indians bullpen had a 7.98 ERA. It gave up 13 runs in 14 2/3 innings. But in its last three appearances, the bullpen has been spotless in eight-plus innings. ... In July, the Indians have a team ERA of 4.45. ... The Tribe is 32-21 against teams in the AL Central, and the club is 19-38 against the other two AL divisions and the National League. ... The Tribe is a combined 12-3 against the Twins and the Tigers, the teams making up this five-game homestand. ... Coco Crisp is 12-fir-25 (.480) in his last six games. ... The Indians are 18-47 (.277) against teams with records of .500 or better. ... When scoring four or more runs, the Tribe is 35-20 this season.

Quote 'em: "We've got to put it together. There's really no excuse. We're up here for a reason, you know. We'll get it together." -- Crisp on the Tribe's recent struggles.

Coming up: Right-hander Jake Westbrook will start Game 1 of the series with the Minnesota Twins. Westbrook will face veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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