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Notes: Tribe takes pressure off Marte

Notes: Tribe trying to keep pressure off Marte

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though he was the key acquisition in a high-profile trade, Andy Marte is not being asked by the Indians to put together a high-profile season.

"He could be the beneficiary," general manager Mark Shapiro said, "of low expectations."

Manager Eric Wedge announced on Thursday that Marte will bat ninth in the order at the outset of the season. It's a low-pressure spot in what the Indians hope will be a low-pressure year for their 23-year-old third baseman, who will break camp with a big-league club for the first time.

"We're not expecting him to carry our team," Shapiro said. "We don't need him to be a big run producer. Our expectations for us to be a winning team are for him to play solid defense and not have a bad year offensively. If he can do better than that, our team will benefit."

Defense is the primary contribution Marte can provide at this stage in his career, though he made his third error of Grapefruit League play on Thursday against his old team, the Braves.

"He looks more comfortable," Tribe infield coach Luis Rivera said. "He looks like he belongs. He grew up, and now he knows what he's expected to do."

The Indians' expectations for Marte at the plate are simply that he keeps working to get better. He's certainly showed signs of improvement this spring, as he hit .294 (15-for-51) with two homers, seven RBIs and only five strikeouts.

But Marte is a power hitter who won't be counted on for a high average in the initial stages of his career.

"They don't want me to think about my numbers," Marte said. "They want me to play the game I know how to play. They told me they don't need me to bat .300 and hit 20 bombs with 80 RBIs."

Sigh of relief: Wedge admitted he wasn't exactly sitting comfortably as his ace pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, was driven to Winter Haven Hospital on Wednesday afternoon to get X-rays on his bruised left forearm.

The X-rays on Sabathia's arm, which was pegged by a line drive off the bat of Toronto's Reed Johnson, came up negative, and the left-hander is slated to play catch and throw a bullpen session on Friday. If all goes to plan, he'll be ready t o pitch Opening Day against the White Sox.

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If Sabathia's bullpen session doesn't go as hoped, Wedge said Jake Westbrook would likely be counted on Opening Day.

In other starter news, Cliff Lee (right abdominal strain) threw his first bullpen session of the month on Thursday and felt fine. He'll throw another on Saturday and is still on schedule to be back with the Tribe by the end of April.

About the lineup ... Against right-handed pitching, the lineup -- at the outset of the season, at least -- will look like this: CF Grady Sizemore, RF Trot Nixon, DH Travis Hafner, C Victor Martinez, 1B Casey Blake, LF David Dellucci, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Josh Barfield and 3B Marte.

Against left-handed pitching, Wedge will have a variety of options. Jason Michaels will play in left and bat second, and Blake would likely get the starts in right field. Blake will also see some time at third, spelling Marte. At first base, Wedge will have his choice between Martinez, Hafner and Ryan Garko, who would bat toward the middle of the order.

Another 'pen option: The Indians aren't taking any chances where the bullpen is concerned. They added another depth option down at Buffalo on Thursday, signing right-hander Mike Koplove to a Minor League deal.

The 30-year-old Koplove was released by the Marlins out of big-league camp on Wednesday. He was a key member of the D-backs in 2002, when he went 6-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 55 games, and 2003, when he went 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in 31 games. He owns a career Major League record of 15-7 with two saves and a 3.76 ERA in 217 outings with Arizona from 2001-06.

"He's pitched quite a bit in the big leagues," Wedge said. "We'll put him at Buffalo and evaluate him from there."

Gutierrez goes down: Franklin Gutierrez said his pulled hamstring feels good enough that he should be able to start the season. But he'll start it in Triple-A Buffalo. Wedge pulled Gutierrez aside on Thursday morning and gave him that expected news.

"It's pretty much like last year," said Gutierrez, who batted .272 in 43 games with the Indians last season. "I'll start down there and try to do my job and come back up. There's a lot of very good players on this team, but the opportunities are there, and I'll try to take advantage of them."

Gutierrez hurt his hamstring running down the first-base line during a split-squad game against the Blue Jays on March 14. He's only played in one Grapefruit League game since.

On deck: The Indians will say farewell to Florida with one last Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays at 1:05 p.m. ET on Friday. Westbrook is the scheduled starter against right-hander Victor Zambrano. After the game, the Indians will board a plane bound for Memphis and Saturday's Civil Rights Game against the Cardinals.

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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