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03/24/07 5:00 PM ET

Notes: Lee ready to throw off mound

Southpaw recovering from strained abdominal muscle

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Cliff Lee's been spending his time in the baseball wilderness.

He even has a wilderness look about him, as he's grown out a thick beard.

"My wife doesn't like it," Lee said of the new look.

Lee, therefore, expects the beard to be a goner in the next few days. And his days of lurking in the shadows of Chain of Lakes Park will soon be over, too.

The Indians are planning on having Lee throw off a mound for the first time this March on Tuesday, assuming his right abdominal muscle cooperates.

A strain of the muscle has already assured that Lee won't be able to pitch in the rotation by Opening Day. As right-hander Fausto Carmona fills in for him, Lee is hoping to be back with the club by the end of April.

Fortunately for Lee, the pain in his midsection has subsided, and it hasn't affected his ability to play catch this week.

"I haven't felt anything in that area in over a week," he said. "I'm happy with that."

When the Indians break camp and head to Memphis for next Saturday's Civil Rights Game, Lee will be Cleveland-bound. He'll continue his rehab program at Jacobs Field, eventually making starts with the Tribe's Minor League affiliates in the area.

For now, it's Spring Training all over again for the 28-year-old left-hander. The conditioning work he was able to put in the first two weeks of camp, he said, has been virtually washed out.

"I've got to get back in pitching shape," Lee said. "I've got to build my arm up. I've been able to do some cardio, and I did some light stomach crunches pretty quickly after [the injury], but that's still not the same as getting out on the field."

Choo-sing Buffalo? The Indians might make room for a fifth outfielder on their Opening Day roster. If that's the case, Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Francisco and Franklin Gutierrez would be the candidates for the job.

But Choo, believe it or not, isn't really interested in the gig, because he knows it would primarily be a bench spot.

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"I'm not perfect at everything," Choo said. "If I go to Triple-A, I'll get to work in left field and face left-handed pitchers and become a better hitter. I'd rather play every day than sit on the bench."

Choo, who was slated to be the Tribe's regular right fielder until the January signing of Trot Nixon, hasn't been particularly happy with his camp, to this point. He's hit .207 (6-for-29) with three RBIs in 12 games.

"My spring hasn't been really good," he said. "Every other year in Spring Training, I've hit .300. But I'm feeling good, and I'm seeing the ball good."

Francisco treat: Francisco doesn't seem as though he'd mind a bench role. In fact, he doesn't seem to mind any role.

"My versatility is a big asset," he said. "I can play all three [outfield spots]. I can steal a bag. I can bat wherever in the lineup."

On Saturday against the Braves, Francisco batted eighth and played center field. He went 0-for-3 at the plate, lowering his spring average to .316.

Francisco said playing in the Mexican Winter League helped prepare him for what has been, Saturday aside, a dynamic spring camp.

"I worked on my plate discipline," he said. "I came in here ready to go. My body felt good, and it didn't take me long to get adjusted."

The decision on whether or not to carry an extra outfielder will hinge on whether or not Ryan Garko is deemed capable enough at first base to help the big-league club.

"It's not up to me," Francisco said. "I'm going to keep persevering, and if I get a chance, I'll get a chance."

Armed and dangerous: The Indians' interest in Kelly Shoppach during the negotiations that led to last winter's Coco Crisp trade centered mainly around his strong arm behind the plate.

That arm was on in full display Saturday as Shoppach nabbed all three of the Braves who tried to steal off him.

"He was outstanding," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He was a difference-maker with the way he threw the ball today."

Hanging around: The Indians will have Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, Rafael Betancourt, Jason Davis, Fernando Cabrera and Aaron Fultz in their Opening Day bullpen, but Tom Mastny and Juan Lara remain in camp, because they're considered the first line of defense at Buffalo this season.

"I've really been staying open-minded with those two guys," Wedge said, "with the way they've thrown the ball."

Mastny made a rare start on Saturday, giving up a pair of runs on three hits over two innings. Those were the first runs he's allowed in nine appearances this spring. Lara went three scoreless innings, lowering his spring ERA to 0.79.

On deck: While his agent, Michael Maas, and the Indians work behind the scenes on a contract extension for him, right-hander Jake Westbrook will be working on fine-tuning his game when he takes the mound for Sunday's 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Dodgers. Westbrook will oppose Los Angeles right-hander Jason Schmidt. Davis, Hernandez and Borowski will be available to pitch in relief.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.