Lesson of '06 gives Tribe perspective

Lesson learned, Wedge looking at big picture

CLEVELAND -- April isn't everything.

With six months to a baseball season, placing too much emphasis on a single month -- especially the first month -- is probably a wayward course of action.

Eric Wedge knows this now. He learned his lesson the hard way.

A year ago, Wedge got caught up in the media's preoccupation with his poor April record as the Indians' manager. He spent Spring Training harping on the subject, telling his players that a slow start to the '06 season in a division as tough as the AL Central would be detrimental to the club's playoff hopes.

"I let everybody talk me into thinking you've got to go 3,000-1 in April just to have a chance," Wedge jokes now.

What happened on the field was no laughing matter, however.

Inspired by the speeches, the Indians jumped out to a 6-1 mark in the season's first week. The rest was misery -- a 7-11 mark for the rest of April, a 13-14 record in May and a 9-17 record in June, effectively squashing all thoughts of October.

"I think I put a little too much heat on them to get off to a good start," Wedge says. "That's not my personality. That's not the way I usually go about my things. I believe in the long haul. I think I got caught up in [talk of April] a little bit."

Now, it's back to basics for Wedge's Indians.

When the club reports to Winter Haven, Fla., for its fifth Spring Training under Wedge's rule, the "rah rah" tactics won't be limited to a single month. Wedge will be preaching the value of respecting the sixth-month grind that comes with a 162-game schedule.

"It won't be the same approach as last year," Wedge says. "We have to take it one day at a time, focus on the process and let things play out."

For the Indians to see their goals play out this year, they'll need to mesh together their young core of talent with the wealth of new faces brought aboard this winter.

The outfield has been overhauled with the additions of David Dellucci and Trot Nixon; the bullpen has been reshaped by the signings of Keith Foulke, Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz; and the infield got a new look on the right side with the trade for Josh Barfield and Casey Blake's move to first.

The bullpen dynamic is especially intriguing, because it's rare for a relief corps to undergo such turnover. It's the job of Wedge and his coaching staff to sort through the rash of newly acquired arms and slot them into their appropriate roles in a 'pen in which Rafael Betancourt is the only guaranteed holdover from '06.

"This is going to be kind of weird," Betancourt says. "You know you're on the team, but you don't know what role you're going to have. I think Wedgie and the coaching staff have a job to do at Spring Training, because they know who's going to be on the team, but they have to decide what roles guys are going to have."

Indeed, the players are just as curious as anyone to see how Wedge, in the final year of his contract, handles a club that fell so drastically short of expectations last season.

But the standards expected of Wedge haven't changed a bit, according to general manager Mark Shapiro.

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"[The expectations for Wedge are] the same as always," Shapiro says. "To win, and to manage and run the team with a sense of urgency and not sacrifice the standards we believe in."

To his credit, Wedge doesn't shy away from his accountability. He is the first to own up to his mistakes of a year ago, beginning with the overemphasis on April. Though the Indians certainly have stiff competition in the AL Central, it's Wedge's task this year to get his club to worry solely about its own daily battles.

"We have to make sure when everyone else is going one way, we stay on our own path," he says. "We're at our best when we relax, because we're strong, we're confident and we've got some good ballplayers here."

Now more than ever, Wedge has some experienced ballplayers at his disposal.

All of the Tribe's offseason acquisitions -- even Barfield, coming off his rookie year in San Diego -- have played in the postseason. It's that experience, Wedge hopes, that will help the '07 Indians prepare for the long haul.

"How it plays out? I don't know," Wedge says. "But do we have the pieces? I think we have the pieces. Now we'll see how it plays out."

In April and beyond.

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