GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- David Dellucci's initial explanation for why he's about a week behind his teammates in spring camp was a lot more interesting than the truth.

Dellucci called reporters over to his locker in the Indians' clubhouse Saturday morning and began to explain why he needed three stitches in his left thumb.

"Right before I came here," Dellucci explained, "I was fishing on the side of my lake, and I heard a little boy screaming. I ran over there, and an alligator had him by the leg. I jumped on the gator, poked him in the eyes, freed the kid, but he [bit] me in my thumb. I got stitches, had surgery and the stitches will come out on Monday."

Now, if this were true, it would be the kind of headline-grabbing story that would break up the general monotony of these early days of camp.

But Dellucci, who sold the fable quite well for a couple minutes, couldn't let it go any further than that.

"I'm just kidding," he finally said with a laugh.

The truth is that Dellucci was loading up the bed of his truck, and when he slammed the tailgate closed, his thumb was caught inside.

That's painful, all right. Maybe not alligator-induced pain. But pain, nonetheless.

Dellucci, though, said the thumb isn't giving him any problems. Stitches closed the wound, though he'll probably lose the nail on the thumb. On Friday, he took batting practice and threw with his left hand and had no issues.

"I fully expect, once the stitches are out and it's healed, that I'll be participating as if I was starting day one of Spring Training," Dellucci said. "I will be a week behind, and I won't be in the first three [Cactus League] games, at least."

While Dellucci, 35, does expect to catch up to his teammates eventually this spring, he will probably never meet the expectations that came with him joining the Indians' organization before the '07 season.

Signed to a three-year, $11.5 million contract, Dellucci was supposed to be a productive member of the middle or the order and a regular in left field. But he enters '09 in a bench role, backing up Ben Francisco in left, with three highly regarded prospects -- Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe -- threatening to take his place on the active roster.

The Indians probably won't break camp with any of those three youngsters, so Dellucci's job is safe for now. It remains to be seen how much playing time he gets to redeem himself after two disappointing years.

"It's all about this team winning a championship," Dellucci said. "Whatever role I'm in to help that is just fine."

In 2007, Dellucci didn't play much of a role in the Indians' winning the division title, because he was on the DL from mid-June to September with a left hamstring tear. For the year, he batted just .230 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 56 games.

Last season, Dellucci simply never got on a roll. He batted .238 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 113 games and lost his job to Francisco.

"There were flashes of me getting in a groove last year," said Dellucci, who did hit .345 in August. "I just hope that once I find it this year, I'm able to keep it. I think that's the positive I'm going to look at. I had some awful luck in the early part of the year. Maybe this year balls are going to fall in and things are going to go my way. It's surely about time for that to happen."

Dellucci's tenure with the Tribe has certainly been a disappointment for the organization and its fans. Dellucci knows this, and he said he shares that disappointment.

"Big-time," he said. "We're human, and we have up-and-down games and up-and-down years. If I could hit the rewind button, I wouldn't have put so much pressure on myself. The beauty of it all is it starts from zero this year."

Once the thumb heals, of course.

"The rest of my body is in shape," he said. "This [thumb issue] is nothing. I'm not even concerned about it. I feel like it's going to be a good year. I know you look around our outfield and there are some young superstars in the making. But I'm prepared for whatever role I'm put in to give my best effort and help this team."

As for the gator story, it will just have to live on in Spring Training legend.

"There are about a dozen guys in this clubhouse who still believe it," Dellucci said with a smile.