Notes: Three starters pitch on Tuesday

Notes: Three starters pitch on Tuesday

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The three-man battle for the last rotation spot was on display Tuesday, as left-handers Cliff Lee, Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers all got their work in against the Reds.

Lee, who had been out of action for four days while battling a sinus infection, was the only one who could call it a good day. He worked a scoreless first inning in his spring debut, giving up one hit but getting Ken Griffey Jr. to ground into an inning-ending double play.

"I felt like I threw the ball remotely close to where I wanted it to go," Lee said, "so I'll take it."

The sinus problem prevented Lee from doing anything but playing catch the last few days, so he's a little behind in his workout routine. But at least he's got his health back.

"It feels good to feel good," he said.

Laffey, who took over Lee's starting spot when Lee was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo last season, was not feeling as good. He was all over the place in this outing. Scheduled to go two innings, Laffey lasted just two-thirds, giving up five runs on three hits with three walks and a strikeout.

"I can't put too much emphasis on this, because then I can't move forward," Laffey said. "I'll go over what I did wrong, which was pretty much everything. It just seems like in the bullpen warming up, I'm right on, pinpoint, can't miss, then I can't get that to transfer over to the game."

Sowers was also scheduled to pitch two innings, but the rain that cut the game short in the middle of the fifth got in the way. He went one inning, giving up two runs on four hits with a walk and a throwing error. The messy conditions brought on by the rain didn't help him.

Wedge stressed that the Indians won't put all their emphasis on spring performance when making the decision on the fifth spot. He also said Lee's experience (he won 46 games from 2004-06) is a factor.

"You look at what he's accomplished," Wedge said, "and it's normal that he's the first name you mention. ... You have to respect what Cliff's already done here, and I take that into consideration."

The Indians also have to take Lee's contract into consideration. He's due to make $3.75 million this season.

Second look: Every time the Indians play the Reds, they get a look at their past second baseman of the future.

Brandon Phillips, of course, is firmly out of the picture now. And ever since the Indians traded him to the Reds at the outset of '06, only to watch him emerge as a star in the National League, they have tried to lessen the sting of his loss.

The trade for Josh Barfield after the '06 season appeared to be the Indians' answer at second. But last year, as Barfield struggled, it was Asdrubal Cabrera who came out of nowhere to take over the job.

It has been assumed that Barfield is ticketed for Triple-A this season, with Cabrera picking up where he left off and Jamey Carroll and Andy Marte filling the two backup spots in the infield. Wedge, however, has been careful not to make any outright statements about Barfield's near future.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Lee on making rotation  400K
• Hafner on Opening Day  400K
• Shapiro on deciding roster  400K
• Sabathia on Opening Day start  400K
• Shapiro: Good spring for Indians  400K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"Nobody's out [of the mix]," Wedge said before Tuesday's game. "Josh made a strong commitment during the winter. He's worked hard with [hitting coach] Derek [Shelton] to make adjustments."

Still, the odds are strongly in favor of Barfield, who hit .243 with three homers and 50 RBIs last season and never complained when he was demoted, going to Buffalo so that he can play every day.

Curb your enthusiasm: As for the 22-year-old Cabrera, who started at shortstop Tuesday, the Indians aren't placing heavy expectations on him this year, because they know he could be due for some challenges in his first full season in the Majors.

Cabrera hit .283 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 45 games down the stretch last season.

"He has to keep his feet on the ground and stay focused," Wedge said of Cabrera. "We don't want him to get ahead of himself."

First grade: Marte made his first appearance at first base Tuesday and got off to a fine start. He made a nice pick of a low liner off the bat of Reds leadoff man Ryan Freel in the first inning. But in the second inning, he was unable to reach a Cabrera throw toward the dirt.

Marte played 10 games at first base in winter ball this offseason to get a feel for the position. Assuming he makes the Major League club, Marte will be counted on to back up Casey Blake at third and also be an option at first.

Marte and fellow infielders Carroll and Andy Gonzalez have also been taking fly balls in the outfield.

Cuts like a knife: The Indians have 61 players in big league camp, but that will be changing soon, when the first cuts are made.

"We'll probably look at things in a week or so," Wedge said.

On deck: The tag-team duo that so successfully shored up the back of the Indians' bullpen last season will be on display in Wednesday's 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Braves at Chain of Lakes Park. Closer Joe Borowski and setup man Rafael Betancourt are both expected to pitch in a game that will be started by right-hander Paul Byrd. The Braves will counter with former Tigers prospect Jair Jurrjens.

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