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Notes: Francisco getting noticed

Notes: Francisco getting noticed

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ben Francisco is still waiting for that fabled call to the big leagues.

In the meantime, he was quite pleased with the phone call he got this winter, when Indians general manager Mark Shapiro informed Francisco that he had been added to the 40-man roster.

The Indians had quite a few position-player candidates for their crowded 40-man, including power-hitting outfielder Ryan Goleski. They opted to protect Francisco from the Rule 5 Draft -- in which Goleski was claimed by the A's -- because they valued his speed and ability to play all three outfield spots.

"That was a good sign," Francisco said of his addition to the roster. "It means they like what I've been doing."

What Francisco has been doing is trying to make a name for himself in a pool of internal outfield candidates that only got deeper with the offseason signings of David Dellucci and Trot Nixon.

Francisco did just that in 2006 at Triple-A Buffalo by finishing tied for second in the International League in hits (143), fifth in doubles (32), fourth in runs (80) and ninth in stolen bases (25). He put together a 25-game hitting streak from June 12-July 8 that stands as the longest streak in Bisons history.

"I didn't really think much about it," Francisco said of the streak. "I wasn't superstitious about it at all."

If he were superstitious, Francisco might have deemed an oblique injury he suffered on the first day of camp last season as an ominous sign of things to come. Obviously, it wasn't. But because the injury kept Francisco out of action during last year's camp, this has been manager Eric Wedge's first real look at him.

Wedge has liked what he's seen.

"He has a low-maintenance swing," Wedge said. "He goes up there ready to hit and gets after it."

In getting after it this spring, Francisco, who will likely return to Buffalo to start the season, has notched five hits, including a home run and a double, in 10 at-bats. He walked twice and scored twice in Wednesday's 10-2 thumping of the Devil Rays.

"I've gotten stronger as I've gotten older," Francisco said. "But I don't think I'll ever be a pure power hitter. I've always hit doubles."

The bunting business: Wedge has one word for those who nag him about his team's need to bunt.

"Uncle," he said.

Wedge is tired of the misguided notion that he's averse to using the bunt. The early days of camp saw the Indians working on that area of the game quite a bit, and Wedge said he had no problem with the Indians' ability to bunt last season.

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"We did as good a job, if not better, than most teams in baseball," Wedge said. "I'm going to say that to get that question off my back a little bit. A lot of times, people pick on those things because they're not smart enough to know what to say."

According to data in "The Bill James Handbook 2007," the Indians attempted 40 sacrifice bunts last season, ranking seventh in the American League.

Tribe tidbits: Luis Rivas is making a strong impression on the Indians with his hustle and his performance at the plate. He got the start at second base against the Rays on Wednesday and cranked out doubles in his first two at-bats and a single in the seventh. "He's really done a good job," Wedge said. "It's nice to see him get on top of a fastball, and, situationally, we've seen some things from him, too." ... Joe Inglett didn't make the trip to St. Petersburg. He's still hampered by a strained left hamstring. "It's going to be a couple days," Wedge said. ... Cliff Lee tossed the ball from 120 feet on Tuesday and had Wednesday off from throwing. The Indians expect him to throw off a mound on Thursday. They still have not set a date for him to make an exhibition start.

Italian adventure: Torey Lovullo liked Italy so much, he decided to take his whole family there.

The Triple-A manager had vacationed in Italy after the 2004 and '05 seasons. This winter, he invited 15 family and extended family members to come along with him as a Christmas present.

"It was dynamite," said Lovullo, whose grandparents were natives of Palermo and Naples. "I've been there three times in three years now and just love it. I never found time to go when I was playing."

The Lovullo clan stayed in two rented villas in Panzano, south of Florence, for 10 days in January. They took trips to Florence, Verona, Pisa and Venice, and the latter two stops were particularly enjoyed by Lovullo's son, Nicky, and daughter, Taylor.

"Standing in the Leaning Tower of Pisa and seeing all the birds in St. Mark's Square [in Venice] -- those are two things they'll remember for the rest of their lives," Lovullo said.

Consider it a gift that keeps on giving.

On deck: Indians ace C.C. Sabathia will be on the mound when the Tribe hosts the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday. The Phillies, guided by former Indians manager Charlie Manuel, will start left-hander Brian Mazone. Jason Davis, Brian Sikorski, Rafael Perez and Ed Mujica are all scheduled to pitch in relief for the Tribe.

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

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