Notes: Garko improving at first base

Notes: Garko improving at first base

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- He's been on display in the Florida sun, his every move at first base scrutinized and dissected by quite a few not-so-casual observers.

But Ryan Garko just hopes the Indians were paying as much attention to him in the last two months of the 2006 season as they are now. Then, perhaps, they'll be more inclined to give him a big-league job.

"I felt I did enough last year [to earn one]," Garko said. "I don't think I need to prove I'm a big-league player. We won a lot of games last year with me at first base. What I did in two months last season is more important than what I've done in 20 games this spring."

Manager Eric Wedge agreed.

"You're always going to put more stock in what you saw last year," Wedge said, "than what see in the spring."

If that is indeed the case, the Indians would be hard-pressed to keep Garko off their roster, given that he drove in 45 runs in 50 games last season.

As it stands, the club is debating whether to keep Garko as a platoon option with Casey Blake at first or to carry a fifth full-time outfielder -- Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez or Shin-Soo Choo. The decision is likely to come down in the next day or two.

The X factor for Garko is his play at first base, where the Indians consider him a work in progress. Garko puts in extra time at the position every day with infield coach Luis Rivera and special assistant Robby Thompson, and the results, Rivera said, have been encouraging. But in Grapefruit League play, Garko has made three errors.

"What he needs to do is take [the behind-the-scenes work] on the field," Rivera said. "Sometimes he presses a little too much when people are watching. When he settles down, he works hard and gets better at this."

But no matter how much work Garko puts into his position, his biggest strength will always be at the plate, where the Indians could use him toward the middle of the order. This spring, Garko has hit .279 (17-for-61) with two homers and 10 RBIs.

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"I feel I've had some solid at-bats, especially lately," he said. "I've driven in some runs."

Cliff notes: Cliff Lee is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session since Feb. 28 on Thursday.

The left-handed Lee, who will miss at least the first couple of weeks of the season because of a strained right abdominal muscle, threw off the front of a mound Tuesday morning, in addition to throwing long toss from 120 feet.

"We had him throw from the front of the mound to work on a downhill slope," head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said. "He tolerated that well."

Dropped down a notch: Shortstop prospect Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice impression on the Indians before his March 15 reassignment to Minor League camp.

Nonetheless, the Indians are pushing the 21-year-old Cabrera down a level in their Minor League system, from Triple-A Buffalo to Double-A Akron, so that he can fine-tune his offensive game.

"That will let him get confidence in his swing," Rivera said.

Cabrera is a sure-handed defender at short, but he completely skipped Double-A baseball in his development in the Mariners' system, and that hurt his offensive game. Considering the circumstances and his age, however, the Indians were encouraged by the .263 average he put up in 52 games at Buffalo last season after they acquired him in a June 30 trade that sent Eduardo Perez to Seattle.

Hector Luna, optioned down to Buffalo on Saturday after making eight errors in Grapefruit League play, is expected to play quite a bit of shortstop at Buffalo.

Tribe tidbits: Paul Byrd gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings Tuesday. He'll be held back in Winter Haven a couple of extra days to make a start in an extended Spring Training game Sunday. The Indians want Byrd to get his regular work in as he prepares to start the home opener on April 6 against the Mariners. ... Infielder Joe Inglett's hamstring and quadriceps strains eliminated him from the Indians' utility infield battle. Now, the injuries might keep him from being able to start the season with Triple-A Buffalo. "We'll see how much progress he makes over the [remainder] of this spring," Wedge said. Inglett, who will play multiple positions in the infield and outfield this season, has felt better the last couple of days, Wedge said. ... During the Astros' batting practice Tuesday, Wedge was talking behind the cage with Jeff Bagwell, who's now a roving instructor for Houston. Wedge and Bagwell were both draft picks of the Red Sox in 1989 -- Wedge in the third round, Bagwell in the fourth. "He hasn't changed at all," Wedge said of Bagwell. "He's a great guy. He's the same now as when he was at the University of Hartford."

Hairy matters: Wedge saw Blake walking by the dugout and told reporters, "Ask Casey about his haircut."

It looked as though Blake got butchered. Virtually all of his hair is long gone.

"I still don't have the worst haircut on the team," Blake said with a smile, referring to Wedge, who had his ears lowered a couple days ago.

Wedge was asked if he had unofficial team barber Brian Slocum, a starting pitcher at Triple-A Buffalo, cut his hair.

"You think I'd let him behind me with scissors after we sent him down?" Wedge joked.

On deck: C.C. Sabathia's fourth career Opening Day start is fast approaching. The big left-hander will make his final Spring Training tune-up for that outing Wednesday against the Blue Jays at Chain of Lakes Park. He'll make the 1:05 p.m. start opposite left-hander Gustavo Chacin.

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