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03/19/09 8:00 PM ET

Laffey battles Jackson for rotation spot

Left-handers turn in mirror-image outings against Brewers

PHOENIX -- The competition for the fifth spot in the Indians' rotation was front and center on Thursday.

Aaron Laffey and fellow left-hander Zach Jackson had mirror-image outings in Cleveland's 7-5 loss to Milwaukee in Cactus League play.

Laffey started off with three hitless innings prior to a fourth-inning meltdown. And Jackson allowed four runs in his first inning before settling down to blank the Brewers for the rest of his four-inning stint.

In a way, both impressed manager Eric Wedge.

"Laffey struggled in that fourth but was able to work through it," Wedge said. "You've got to get through those humps.

"And Jackson had a tough time in his first inning, but it was really impressive the way he came through the next three."

Laffey blamed his struggles in the fourth inning, in which he allowed three hits, hit a batter and walked another, on body fatigue.

"There's nothing wrong with my arm. My whole body felt sluggish," said Laffey, who was pleased with his outing overall, even that challenging fourth.

"I got tired in that fourth and started to drop my arm a bit," Laffey said. "I got empty quick. But I was able to correct it a couple of times and got back to making my pitches, so that was a good thing to go through."

He retired his last two batters, on a bases-loaded force-play grounder and a strikeout of pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.

Also competing for the final rotation slot are Scott Lewis, yet another lefty, and non-roster right-hander Kirk Saarloos. But those candidates are less likely to win out, because both are also considered bullpen possibilities.

David Huff, another lefty contender, was reassigned to Minor League camp prior to the game.

The day's outings left Laffey's ERA at 6.92 and Jackson at 5.65. But that doesn't matter to their manager.

"Spring Training stats don't mean anything. We're going on what we're seeing," said Wedge, who is grateful to have more than two weeks left to make a decision. "We've got [time], and we'll use it. All those lefties have been pretty impressive."

"They told us stats don't matter," agreed Laffey. "You could pitch a no-hitter, with lasers hit all over the field and guys making diving catches. They'll base their decision on what they see."

When Laffey takes the mound, he leaves thoughts of the battle in his living room -- unlike last spring.

"I might think about it at home at night, but not when I'm pitching," Laffey said. "I just have to worry about myself. Last year, I got caught up in it, but not this time."

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