Indians confirm roster spots for three

Indians confirm roster spots for three

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Indians spent six weeks evaluating players in Spring Training camp. But that's not to say the work down here in the Florida sun weighed above all else.

"The best decisions you make," general manager Mark Shapiro said, "you make not just based on Spring Training."

By Tuesday night, Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge had made the decision to keep first baseman Ryan Garko, utility infielder Mike Rouse and right-handed reliever Tom Mastny on the big-league club for Opening Day.

And so, in their latest round of cuts Wednesday morning, the Indians optioned outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco and left-hander Juan Lara to Triple-A Buffalo and reassigned infielder Luis Rivas to Minor League camp.

Those transactions left 29 players in the Tribe's big-league camp. Right-hander Matt Miller, infielder Joe Inglett and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez are all nursing injuries and are headed to the disabled list. Miller has a right forearm strain, while Inglett and Gutierrez are battling hamstring issues.

Non-roster invitee Mike Rose is also still in camp as insurance behind the plate for the remaining exhibition games. He'll be the starting catcher at Buffalo.

Miller's injury forced the Indians to choose between Mastny and Lara for the final bullpen spot.

Mastny's experiences with the Indians last year, when he converted his first five save opportunities, certainly worked in his favor.

The 26-year-old Mastny came to camp looking bound for Buffalo, but the retirement of Keith Foulke and the Miller injury cleared room for him. Still, Mastny did his part to earn the opportunity, putting together a 1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 innings over his first 10 appearances. He struck out 10 batters and walked four.

"I've had more command of my two-seam fastball," Mastny said of his spring. "I'm a lot more confident with it. I haven't walked too many guys, and I'm real happy about that."

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Shapiro said the Indians went with Mastny over Lara, who gave up just one run in 12 1/3 spring innings, because of his propensity for throwing strikes and the length he can provide out of the 'pen.

"Tom has been a starter," Shapiro said. "He has the ability to give us multiple innings. And he's been a strike-thrower his entire career, which is the No. 1 criteria."

Garko has been hitting his entire career, and the Indians will initially count on that bat against left-handed pitching and in pinch-hit situations.

The 26-year-old Garko made his case for inclusion on the roster when he hit .290 with seven homers and 45 RBIs in 50 games for the Tribe last season. But the Indians wanted to see him improve defensively at first. He's made three errors at the position this spring.

"He definitely gives us a more potent lineup against left-handed pitching," Shapiro said. "There's one thing he's done in college, all the way through the Minor Leagues and then in the big leagues last year, and that's hit. We know when we put him in the lineup, we've got a chance to score more runs. His effort and quality of work to get better at first base has been consistent. We've seen progress."

With Casey Blake getting regular starts at first against right-handers and Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner also in the mix at the position, Garko knows he'll have to earn his playing time.

"This is the first step," Garko said of his inclusion on the roster. "Whatever I can do to help us win is the most important thing. I'll put in the work and prepare as best I can. Whether I play seven times a week or once a week, I feel I can help, especially with my bat."

Rouse won the utility job over Rivas and Hector Luna, who had come into camp as the front-runner for the job, but was optioned to Buffalo after making eight errors in Grapefruit League play.

Though the utility job is a backup role, it's nonetheless a position the Indians have particular interest in. Porous infield defense was a major factor in their disappointing 78-84 finish last season, and they wanted to be sure they had a utility man who could more-than-adequately back up shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who struggled on the defensive end in '06.

"The primary criteria for our utility infielder has been consistency in the middle," Shapiro said. "From Day 1 [in camp], he distanced himself from everybody else with his shortstop play, in particular. His challenge now will be shifting into a part-time role. It's never easy to make that transition. To hit when you're only playing once or twice a week is a challenge. Hopefully we'll be able to give him the instruction to help him."

The Indians added Rouse to their 40-man last September, when they plucked him off waivers from the A's. They like how his left-handed bat complements the right-handed likes of Peralta, third baseman Andy Marte and second baseman Josh Barfield.

Rouse described being told he's on the Opening Day roster as "surreal."

"It's something you work so hard for your whole life," he said. "It's definitely hard to put words to. I just have to be ready to play at all times."

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