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Cleveland Indians

Wanted: clutch hitters

By Sheldon Published: April 14, 2009

Raise the topic of excessive striking out, and Eric Wedge's blood pressure doesn't budge. But mention that the Indians have 21 strikeouts with runners in scoring positon, and the manager begins to bristle.

"We've been striking out entirely too much with runners in scoring position,'' he said Tuesday. ``I don't get too caught up in strikes generally, but if a guy is in scoring position, you have to put the ball in play.''

The subject arose when someone noted that Tribe batsmen were often striking out with the bases loaded, and Wedge felt that was only the tip of the iceberg. 

"It's not just bases loaded situations,'' he said. ""We've got to do better with runners in scoring position generally.''  

Wedge's voice became tinged with sarcasm when he said,  "Of course, that was one of the major things we focused on in spring training, and we're off to a flying start. But that work will eventually pay off for us.''

Going into Tuesday night's game against the Royals, the Indians were batting .186 with runners in scoring position. With only seven games in the books, the numbers are hardly definitive, but Victor Martinez had the best average among the regulars, .333 (3-for-9), and Jhonny Peralta was still looking for his first hit in seven at-bats.

Travis Hafner was 1-for-7 and Asdrubal Cabrera and Mark DeRosa each were 1-for-6. 

The Tribe had a total of 59 at-bats with runners on second or third and struck out 36 percent of the time. To put that in perspective, if a batter went down swinging that often over a 550-at-bat season, he would be almost assured of leading the league with 198 strikeouts.

As for overall performance with the bases loaded, the Tribe is batting .250 (3-for-12) with nine runs and four strikeouts.

Those are not praiseworthy numbers, and the reality is worse. Of those nine runs, two scored on hit batters and one on a wild pitch. DeRosa and Trevor Crowe were responsible for five, ripping a pair of doubles, Shin-Soo Choo drove in one with a single.

"Our effort is good, our attitude is good, our energy level is good,'' Wedge said, ""but we have to start performing.''

SOMETHING TO CROWE ABOUT -- Trevor Crowe got his third start in a row and fourth of the season, not bad for a raw rookie getting his first exposure to the major leagues. 

""I like his energy, and I think he's getting better,'' manager Eric Wedge said. ""He brings a lot of athletic talent to the baseball field. 

"Because of the times (Travis) Hafner doesn't play, there are opportunities. Also, I can get Grady off his feet now and then.''

Tuesday night, Sizemore took over the DH spot from Hafner and Crowe spelled Sizemore in center field. Crowe has started at least one game in left, center and right.

SOMETHING TO PROVE? -- Wedge was purposely vague in explaining what he meant when he said, "(Aaron) Laffey wasn't particularly pleased when we sent him out,'' the day the manager announced that the Columbus lefty would take the start of injured Scott Lewis.

""Lewis beat him out for that spot (in spring training),'' Wedge reiterated. ""Now Laffey has a chance to pitch, so let's go.''

IN AGAIN, OUT AGAIN -- Hafner was written out of the lineup Tuesday night, as Wedge tries to acclimate him to ease him into everyday DH duty.

"If I played him tonight, he wouldn't play tomorrow, and I want him to play tomorrow,'' the manager said. ""Three in a row is about as far as I want to stretch him right now.''

Monday night, Hafner was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and stranded eight runners.

FARM FACTS -- Jeremy Sowers pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk in Columbus' 3-2 win over Indianapolis. Luis Valbuena tripled, singled and drove in one run. Wes Hodges had two singles and one RBI... Ryan Morris gave up four runs in four innings, but three were unearned, as Kinston lost a 9-1 decision to Wilmington. Morris yielded four hits and struck out four... Abner Abreu doubled twice, singled twice and drove in two runs in Lake County's 11-9 loss to Lakewood.

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