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Notes: Rouse coy about utility status

Notes: Rouse coy about utility status

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Mike Rouse was asked Monday morning if he's been told anything about his standing in the battle to be the Indians' utility infielder.

Rouse smiled slightly and replied, "I don't really know how to answer that."

Whether that smile speaks volumes about what Rouse knows remains to be seen, for the Indians are letting the situation play out another day or two. Still, it appears pretty likely Rouse will get the job over Luis Rivas.

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The competition between Rouse, who contributed an RBI single to Monday's 4-3 win over the Devil Rays, and Rivas has been a matter of opposites attack.

Rouse, plucked off waivers by the Tribe from the A's last September, is left-handed at the plate; Rivas is a righty. That helps Rouse, given that the Tribe's other infielders are all right-handed, and his bat would add a different look to the lineup.

Rivas has nearly five years of big-league service under his belt, and Rouse only has 24 games, so that works in Rivas' favor.

But only eight of Rivas' 565 Major League games were played at shortstop. He's primarily a second baseman. Rouse is a bona fide shortstop. He made just eight errors in 98 games at the position while with Triple-A Sacramento last year, and he's looked solid in camp.

The Indians have deemed shortstop to be the position of emphasis in this battle, given Jhonny Peralta's struggles of a season ago. So that looks to be another advantage in Rouse's corner.

Perhaps most helpful of all to Rouse's standing is that he's on the club's 40-man roster, and he's out of options, whereas Rivas is a non-roster invitee coming off a rough '06 at Triple-A Durham in the Rays' system.

Roster status, however, was the last thing on Rouse's mind when he reported to camp to try to win this job.

"I tried to focus on my on-field performance," he said. "I try to come out every day and make myself a better player. I want to work hard and go out and play."

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Wait and see: It was dark and early Monday morning, before the sun had risen, and Matt Miller was already in the Indians' clubhouse. That, for those scoring at home, is rare for the right-hander.

Miller showed up early to get treatment on his right forearm, which cramped up on him before Saturday. Now it might be cramping his style, putting his ability to break camp with the Indians in jeopardy.

Miller pulled himself out of Saturday's game against the Braves as a precautionary measure.

"I didn't want to pitch with it and make it worse," he said.

Miller said the injury shouldn't be a prolonged issue, but manager Eric Wedge didn't sound as certain. Wedge said Miller's Opening Day spot on the roster is "potentially in question."

"We'll work day to day with that right now," Wedge said.

The good news in all this, Wedge said, is that Miller's forearm issue is in no way related to his previous right elbow problems, which kept him out of the second half of '05 and most of '06.

If Miller isn't ready for Opening Day, the Indians would choose a replacement between right-hander Tom Mastny (0-0, 1.50 ERA in nine games) and left-hander Juan Lara (0-1, 0.79 ERA in eight games). Wedge said the replacement wouldn't necessarily have to be a right-hander.

Set 'em up: The Indians are working to set up their setup situation, knowing full well that in the line of relief work, nothing is permanent or guaranteed.

For now, right-handers Roberto Hernandez and Rafael Betancourt are the prime candidates to set up closer Joe Borowski. It's doubtful the Indians would use just one guy.

"We'll have multiple options," Wedge said. "We won't lock into one guy."

Left-hander Aaron Fultz and a healthy Miller could pitch in the eighth, depending on the opponents' lineup.

Hernandez had a rough outing Monday to put a small damper on an otherwise strong camp. He was hit hard and gave up two runs in the eighth to raise his spring ERA from 1.29 to 3.38 in eight appearances.

Betancourt has been up and down. He gave up the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning against the Dodgers on Sunday, raising his spring ERA to 6.75 in 10 2/3 innings of work.

"He needs to be a prominent part of our bullpen," Wedge said of Betancourt. "He's done a good job for us the last three or four years."

A safe save: Borowski was inserted into his first ninth-inning save situation of the spring Monday, and the Indians could hardly argue with the results.

Borowski gave up a single to Brendan Harris but struck out two batters, getting Dustan Mohr to look at strike three for the final out.

"He did great," Wedge said. "He threw well, commanded the baseball and did what you want him to do there."

Hello, old friend: The Indians have a familiar name in their Minor League camp. Right-hander Tim Drew, the club's first selection in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft and the other player sent to the Expos in the 2002 Bartolo Colon trade, is in camp trying to earn a Minor League contract.

After being taken by the Tribe out of high school in Georgia, Drew never panned out as hoped in the Tribe's system. In 35 big-league appearances, including 11 starts, with the Indians, Expos and Braves from 2000-04, he went 2-4 with a 7.02 ERA.

Drew was out of action all of last season after having surgery performed on his throwing shoulder. He threw a bullpen session Sunday and will likely throw a few more before the Indians make a decision.

On deck: Right-hander Paul Byrd has been named the starter for the Tribe's April 6 home opener against the Mariners. It's the second year in a row Byrd will start the home opener for the Indians. But on Tuesday, Byrd will be donning his road uniform, as the Indians give him the 1:05 p.m. ET start against right-hander Chris Sampson and the Astros in Kissimmee.

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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