WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The Indians don't take spots on their 40-man roster lightly. They lost two pretty good prospects -- outfielder Ryan Goleski and right-hander Jim Ed Warden -- to the Rule 5 Draft this winter because they ran out of room for them on their jam-packed 40-man. Mike Rouse's standing on that roster, then, shouldn't be taken lightly, either. He's here for a reason. "He's a guy we thought was worthy of a roster spot," general manager Mark Shapiro said, "and you know how much we value roster spots."
Of the three candidates for the Tribe's utility infield spot, the 26-year-old Rouse is the most experienced at short, which certainly works in his favor, considering the Indians want a qualified backup to Jhonny Peralta. Hector Luna and Luis Rivas are trying to refine their performance at the position, while Rouse is simply picking up where he left off in an impressive defensive season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he made just eight errors in 98 games. On Sunday, Rouse got the start at short against the Dodgers and made a stellar diving stop of a grounder from Matt Kemp in the second inning. He also singled, walked, scored a run and stole a base. "He had a real good day," manager Eric Wedge said. "He had a lot of action out there. We saw a lot of good things out of him." A big reason for the Indians' interest in claiming Rouse off waivers from the A's last September is the fact that he's left-handed at the plate. "He complements the three right-handed hitters [Peralta, Andy Marte and Josh Barfield] we've got in the infield," Shapiro said. Keeping quiet: C.C. Sabathia's agent, Brian Peters of Legacy Sports, and the Indians are not in discussions about a contract extension for the left-hander, who is eligible for free agency after the 2008 season. "I know they're not talking," Sabathia said. When asked about his contract situation, Sabathia just shrugs. "I'm a long way away from that," he said. "The guy you should be talking to is Jake Westbrook, because he's a free agent after this year." Sabathia is more focused on his pitching for now. He worked five scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Sunday, throwing 80 pitches. He struck out a pair of batters and wants to start striking out more. "I need to start getting more strikeouts," he said. "Usually, my cutter or slider [get strikeouts]. It's not all the way there. But I still have two more starts and a couple bullpens to get it right." Good advice: Sabathia has been there. He knows what Cliff Lee is feeling right now. All the more reason why the advice Sabathia had for Lee, who will miss at least the first two weeks of the season with a strained right abdominal muscle, should carry weight. "I just try to talk to Cliff and tell him not to rush back," Sabathia said. "We need him for the long haul." Lee's injury is more centrally located than the oblique strain Sabathia suffered on his right side each of the past two seasons. Nonetheless, the injuries are similar in their pesky nature. "It takes a lot of time to heal," Sabathia said, "and a lot of time before you don't feel it."
As for the pain the Indians' rotation will feel in Lee's absence, Sabathia remains optimistic. "Any time you lose a guy in the rotation, it hurts you," he said. "But hopefully Fausto [Carmona] can pick us up until we get [Lee] back." Lee played catch from 60 feet Saturday and reported no pain. Going deep: It's expected that the Opening Day bullpen will consist of Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, Rafael Betancourt, Aaron Fultz, Fernando Cabrera, Jason Davis and Matt Miller. But Wedge is still interested in watching the likes of Tom Mastny, Juan Lara, Brian Sikorski, Jeff Harris and Tony Sipp to get a read on what kind of depth they'll provide this season. Ed Mujica and Rafael Perez, who were both optioned to Buffalo this week, are also in the mix and were sent down to ensure they keep getting consistent innings. "We need them ready in case we need them early," Wedge said. All it takes is one fluke injury, and the makeup of the bullpen can change. That's what happened to the Tribe last season, when both Miller and Betancourt went down in the same inning of an April game against the Orioles. "Baseball is a strange game," Wedge said. "You don't want to assume anything." Wedge said the right-handed Mastny and the left-handed Lara, who both pitched a scoreless inning Sunday, are considered the Tribe's top two depth options. Tribe tidbits: Luna created a big inning for the Indians with his speed down the first-base line on Sunday. He hit a grounder to Dodgers third baseman Andy La Roche, who rushed his throw to first and threw the ball away. The Indians capitalized with a pair of unearned runs. "He's turned it up a notch," Wedge said of Luna. "I take note of how he pressures a defense with how he gets down the line." ... Ryan Garko bobbled a ball at first Sunday, but he also came through with a pair of two-out RBI singles. "He just needs to keep playing and doing his defensive work," Wedge said. "I think he'll get better. He had one of his best work days [at first base] the other day." ... Non-roster invitee Rivas is still in the mix for the utility infield job, but he needs more work at short. To ensure he gets it, the Indians played him in a Minor League intrasquad game Sunday. He went 1-for-4 at the plate. On deck: Right-hander Adam Miller will make what might be his last Grapefruit League start against the Braves at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. The Indians have loved what they've seen from Miller, who has yet to allow a run in nine innings of work and is bound for the top spot in the Buffalo rotation. He'll oppose left-hander Chuck James.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.