Tribe has pitching problems again

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. _ Here's a new one: The Cleveland Indians have too much pitching.

With just one week left in spring training and Opening Day on the near horizon, the Indians still have to make several major decisions regarding their starting rotation and bullpen.

"It's a good problem because a lot of guys have stepped up and pitched well for us," Indians general manager John Hart said Thursday. "There's still plenty of time for us. We're going to break camp with our best guys."

It seems as if pitching is always an issue for the Indians. Because of injuries, the club used a major league record 32 pitchers last season and missed making the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

So many new faces came and went that manager Charlie Manuel couldn't keep up with them.

"Charlie said he didn't know half their names," said Hart, who can now joke about the arms shortage. "Every year it's been about pitching with us, even when we won 100 games."

The only things set in stone for the Indians' pitching staff right now is that Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley and Dave Burba are the top three starters, Bob Wickman is the closer and Paul Shuey, Steve Reed, Ricardo Rincon will have their roles.

Other than that, it's a guessing game with 23 pitchers still in camp.

"Everybody in that locker room feels as if they can pitch on this team," Hart said. "That's not a bad thing."

But right now, the Indians have more questions than answers.

Will Steve Karsay be the No. 4 starter? Is 20-year-old phenom C.C. Sabathia ready? Has Justin Speier lost his job? Where will young right-handers Tim Drew, Ryan Drese and Roy Smith _ the biggest surprises of camp _ begin the year? Should they start the season with 11 pitchers or 12?

And what about the comebacks of Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright?

"I don't know if they're tough decisions," Manuel said. "We just want to make the right ones."

"It all starts with Karsay," Hart said. "If you can figure him out, and I still haven't, then you've got the key. We've got until the (March) 31st at midnight to finalize our roster and we might have to wait up until then."

The clock is ticking, and complicating matters for the Indians are Nagy and Wright, who are both coming back from having surgery.

Nagy will start a minor league game today and Wright is scheduled to make his first appearance in an "A" game tonight, pitching two innings of relief against Kansas City.

Nagy's career appeared to be finished before camp opened. But although his fastball is only in the mid-80s, he's still getting batters out and limited Philadelphia to five hits in five innings in his last outing.

Wright is farther behind and will likely start the season on the DL and stay behind in Florida for extended spring training.

"With only nine days left, I don't think there's enough time for me to make it (roster)," said Wright.

Hart said the club has a plan for Wright and Nagy but wants to wait until both pitch again before unveiling it.

Karsay was Cleveland's closer the first half of last season but was given a chance to become a starter again this spring, and so far has been solid.

The Indians are concerned about Karsay's durability. He hasn't been a full-time starter since 1997 with Oakland and has undergone three operations, including reconstructive "Tommy John" elbow surgery.

The other risk is that by making Karsay a starter, the Indians could be weakening their bullpen. And as the club learned two years ago, if Karsay begins the season as a reliever, he'll need to stay one. He hurt his arm the last time the Indians bounced him around.

Karsay will make a minor league start on Saturday, the same day Sabathia faces the Houston Astros.

Sabathia is another dilemma. The fireballing left-hander has never pitched higher than Double-A, but has shown that he might not need much more minor league grooming.

The Indians are trying to be patient with him, but if the 6-foot-7 Sabathia continues to progress, it might be hard to keep him down on the farm.

"C.C. is going to be a tough decision for us," Hart said. "But if we take C.C. we'll take him as a starter."

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