LAKELAND, Fla. -- Hector Luna came to Spring Training camp with an upper hand in the battle for the Indians' utility infield job. To this point, however, Luna hasn't done much to capitalize on it.
As was the case when they acquired him from the Cardinals last July in the Ronnie Belliard trade, the Indians aren't particularly pleased with Luna's physical conditioning and range in the field. He reported to camp a little heavier than manager Eric Wedge hoped to see, and, on Friday, muffed one of the first ground balls hit his way at shortstop. "He's got to keep working hard," Wedge said. "He's got to get in better shape and move around better." In evaluating Luna, Joe Inglett, Luis Rivas and Mike Rouse for the utility job, the Indians are placing a premium on the ability to play shortstop. That just so happens to be Luna's favorite position to play, but, as is the case with starter Jhonny Peralta, his range there is an issue. At the end of last season, the Indians had a long talk with Luna, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, about his need to get in better shape to improve his quickness from side to side. "We were pretty direct," Wedge said. "It's up to the player to do it. We put it out there. What they do with that information is up to them." Infield coach Luis Rivera took a trip to the Dominican Republic this winter to work with Luna and Peralta on their defensive fundamentals. He said the 27-year-old Luna, who hit .276 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 37 games with the Tribe last year, has the skills to be a reliable shortstop. "That's the position he played coming up and, in my opinion, that's the position he plays best," Rivera said. "But he still needs to work and be able to make all the routine plays and to take ground balls." Hungry for more: Rivera has been impressed with what he's seen thus far from Rivas, the former everyday second baseman for the Twins. "He's very solid fundamentally at shortstop and second base," Rivera said. "He's done a real good job at second base." Rivas fell out of favor in Minnesota, where he was often criticized for a lack of hustle. He played with the Twins from 2000-05 and tried to resurrect his career with Tampa Bay in '06, but an injury to his right hand limited him to 69 games at Triple-A Durham, where he hit just .218. "He looks very hungry," Rivera said of Rivas. "He really wants to get back to the big leagues. When you've been in the big leagues and leave, you know what you need to do to get back. He's been working his tail off." Lee watch: Cliff Lee is still taking it easy in the training room. The left-hander remains restricted from baseball activity for the next couple of days while he rests a strained right abdominal muscle. "He's continuing to feel better, without doing anything," Wedge said. "We'll just take it day by day."
Finding his form: Pitchers never know at which juncture, exactly, their stuff will start to click, but Jeremy Sowers learned an important lesson in the value of not forcing the issue last year. "I tried to impress [the Indians] with what I thought I was able to do on the grand stage," Sowers said. "I put more pressure on myself. Like everybody else in any profession, I expected to pick up where I left off." Instead, Sowers said, he didn't completely get a feel for his pitches until the third week of March. This time around, Sowers appeared to have that feel in his first Grapefruit League outing. In two innings of work against the Tigers on Saturday, he gave up a home run to Craig Monroe, but, overall, was efficient. "I was able to keep the ball in the strike zone," he said. "Not necessarily where I wanted it every time, but I threw 22 or 23 pitches over two innings. I'll take that over 45 pitches in 1 2/3 innings, which is what I think I had in my last spring start last year." A mighty wallop: Wedge knows a long home run when he sees one. And he and the rest of those in attendance saw one Friday in Clearwater, when the Phillies' Ryan Howard took Rafael Betancourt deep in the third inning. How deep? Try more than 460 feet deep. Howard's blast sailed clear out of Bright House Networks Field and landed near a pond that serves as a barrier between the ballpark and U.S. 19. "When you have the wall, the backstop, then a fence on the outside of the stadium," said Wedge, "and then the people on the other side of the fence have their backs to you, you know that's a long one." Tribe tidbits: First baseman Mike Aubrey, coming back from a knee injury that prematurely ended his '06 season, made his first appearance of the spring Saturday against the Tigers. ... Roberto Hernandez also made his Indians debut Saturday. He pitched a scoreless inning but walked three batters. ... The Indians will hold their annual First Pitch Luncheon on Tuesday, April 10, at noon ET at the Renaissance hotel in downtown Cleveland. All members of the Tribe roster will attend, and a 45-minute autograph session will follow the lunch. Tickets can be purchased for $100 per person by calling (216) 420-HITS or visiting the Indians Team Shop or Indians.com. Proceeds benefit Cleveland Indians Charities. On deck: The Tribe completes its home-and-home weekend series with the Tigers with Sunday's 1:05 p.m. ET game at Chain of Lakes Park. Left-hander C.C. Sabathia will make his spring debut opposite left-hander Kenny Rogers. Joe Borowski, Brian Slocum, Matt Miller, Tom Mastny, Tony Sipp and Juan Lara are also scheduled to throw for the Indians.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.