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HOUSTON -- Before the Tribe's penultimate spring exhibition game Friday night, manager Eric Wedge revealed his Opening Day lineup for Monday's game against Kevin Millwood and the Rangers.
Now, knowing the complexion of this Indians' club and Wedge's history of mixing and matching over the course of a season, it's probably not a lineup worth committing to memory for the next six months. Consider that last year the Indians were one of only eight teams that didn't use the same lineup more than five times, according to STATS LLC. Wedge used 145 lineups in 2003, 114 in '04, 111 in '05, 112 in '06, 117 in '07 and 136 last year.
Regardless, this is this lineup that will back left-hander Cliff Lee on Monday:
1. CF Grady Sizemore
2. 3B Mark DeRosa
3. 1B Victor Martinez
4. DH Travis Hafner
5. SS Jhonny Peralta
6. RF Shin-Soo Choo
7. C Kelly Shoppach
8. LF Ben Francisco
9. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera
The season hasn't even begun yet, and already Wedge's lineups are drawing their share of second-guessing. Some question the decision to leave Hafner in such a prominent position after he played just 57 games last season because of a weak right shoulder. The thinking is that a lower-profile position would allow Hafner to right himself before getting bumped into such a high-pressure spot.
Wedge treats that thought much the same way he treats those who insist Sizemore should be batting third.
"You can't look at [a player's spot] independently," he said. "People say, 'This guy does this, so he should hit in the three hole' or, 'This guy does this, and he should bat leadoff.' I don't care what anybody says about that, because it's the way those nine work together [that matters]. They all work off each other, and it has to work."
In Hafner's case, Wedge is using the left-handed hitter to create balance in the middle of the order.
"I like having a couple right-handers in between Grady and Haf," Wedge said, counting the switch-hitting Martinez as a "right-hander" in this instance. "I like Jhonny in the middle there. You move Haf down, then you've got Choo and Haf next to each other, and that makes it real easy for [the opponent to make bullpen decisions]."
Wedge also reiterated his belief in Hafner's potential for this season.
"I trust Travis," Wedge said. "I trust the work he's done. He's worked hard, he's moving in the right direction, and I think it's important he knows I trust him. It doesn't mean he's going to get out the gate like gangbusters, and it doesn't mean he's not."
Given the makeup of the roster, Wedge has a lot more to consider in his day-to-day lineups than the order. This is a versatile club -- probably the most versatile club in Wedge's tenure -- and he'll have some difficult decisions to make not only in terms of who to play but also where to play them.
The biggest conundrum lies in the catching situation, as both Martinez and Shoppach will see time behind the plate. Initially, it's expected Shoppach will catch each time Lee and Carl Pavano start, and Martinez will catch each time Fausto Carmona starts. As for who will start for Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes, that's still a mystery.
Martinez can play at first the days he doesn't catch, but that cuts into Ryan Garko's playing time. Garko can presumably start in the corner-outfield spots, but that cuts into the playing time of Francisco and Choo. The same goes for DeRosa moving to the corners on the days Wedge starts Jamey Carroll, Josh Barfield or Peralta at third base. Barfield and Carroll can also play the outfield, and Wedge also has fourth outfielder Trevor Crowe at his disposal.
Yeah, it's complicated.
"Playing somebody means you're not playing somebody else," Wedge said. "Playing somebody means you're better offensively, but you're a little worse off defensively. I know one thing. It will show itself to us in time."
When the time comes to make late-game moves, Wedge will have speed at his disposal in the form of Barfield and Crowe, and he intends to use it.
"You've got to figure with Garko and Shoppach and Victor, we're going to have to pinch-run for them, depending on what type of game we're in," Wedge said. "And with Hafner and Peralta, too. They're in the second-tier of that."
So be it before a game, during a game or even after a game, when the results are fresh in his head, Wedge finds himself constantly considering all the lineup decisions he must make. He considers a wealth of factors, from the handedness of the opposing pitcher, to that pitcher's history against his hitters to the park the game is being played in to the way each guy has been playing recently, and on and on and on.
He puts particular emphasis on how his hitters work off each other, saying that area of the game is "very underrated."
"I really work my you-know-what off to take everything into consideration," Wedge said. "I'll utilize the staff, I'll utilize numbers, I'll think about conversations we've had. You take everything you have, and you have to discipline yourself not just to think about April 6. You're thinking about six months."