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03/29/09 4:40 PM ET
Catchers key as Wedge refines lineup
Martinez to see time at first, DH while Shoppach is behind plate
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Plenty of uncertainties still exist with regard to the Indians' lineup. "I don't have the first 15 plays scripted, like Bill Walsh," manager Eric Wedge joked Sunday, referring to the Hall of Fame National Football League coach.
But with the 13 position players set -- assuming David Dellucci's calf injury isn't enough to keep him from breaking camp with the club -- and only a week remaining in spring exhibition play, Wedge is a little more willing to reveal his plans for how the lineup can be expected to look.
Though the exact arrangement behind the plate isn't set in stone, Wedge said Kelly Shoppach will start behind the plate at least two out of every five days. Shoppach will catch on the days Cliff Lee starts, and Victor Martinez will catch for Fausto Carmona. As for the remaining days, when Carl Pavano, Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes are starting, there are some X factors -- such as the matchup with the opponent's starting pitcher and how well Shoppach and Martinez are meshing with those three arms -- that Wedge will have to take into consideration on a daily basis.
"Breaking camp here, I look at each of those guys as catching two of the five or three of the five," Wedge said. "Nothing's set. Anything else I'd say is premature, because I don't know how it's going to go, based on the matchups."
Shoppach forced the Indians' hand in this situation by batting .261 with an .865 OPS, 21 homers and 55 RBIs in 112 games last season. He filled in ably for an injured Martinez, who missed 2 1/2 months following elbow surgery.
Wedge told Martinez, who has been the regular behind the plate since the end of the 2003 season, that he might catch anywhere between 90-130 games, with the rest of his starts coming at first base and designated hitter. How often Martinez is behind the plate will depend on the offensive performance of Shoppach and first baseman Ryan Garko.
"You could make an argument that Victor will play more than ever," Wedge said, "because he'll be getting so many reps at first base, and that's less wear and tear on the body."
Both Shoppach and Martinez have expressed no qualms about the arrangement, even though both players are certainly deserving of an everyday role behind the plate in the Majors.
"I expect both those guys to be great teammates and great leaders and understand that the only thing that matters is us going out there to do everything we can to win that game that day," Wedge said.
Wedge will have plenty to consider when deciding what lineup gives him the best chance to win. Garko has shown him enough in the outfield corners this spring to be considered an option there, and that could help the catching conundrum become a little less murky.
One element to the order that Wedge does not appear inclined to deviate from is having Travis Hafner in either the No. 3 or 4 spot.
Hafner has had a quiet spring in his return from right shoulder surgery, batting .225 (9-for-40) with only two extra-base hits (a pair of doubles), four RBIs, four walks and 10 strikeouts. But it doesn't look as though Wedge will protect Pronk a bit by dropping him down at the outset of the season.
"When it comes to that three or four spot, I'm pretty confident it's going to be Victor and Haf," Wedge said. "How it plays out with who's at three and who's at four will be dependent on the day. And [Jhonny] Peralta and [Shin-Soo] Choo will fall in after that."
The top of the order will, of course, feature center fielder Grady Sizemore leading off and third baseman Mark DeRosa in the No. 2 spot. The bottom of the order will involve Shoppach, Garko, left fielder Ben Francisco and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Dellucci and utility infielders Jamey Carroll and Josh Barfield will round out the bench.
"I feel good about the 13 [position players] we have," Wedge said. "I still feel we have a lot of work to do this last week, tightening things up, being a little more crisp. Every individual needs to ask a little more of themselves. That's 13 guys that need to come together and be a unit."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.