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Lewis preparing as if he's Tribe's closer

Lewis an option for Tribe at closer

CLEVELAND -- As the Indians' search for a closer carries on, Jensen Lewis is carrying on as if he will remain the ninth-inning guy.

"I went into the offseason with the mentality that I was the guy until told differently," Lewis said Wednesday. "As of right now, that's my mindset."

But Lewis knows the Indians are dead-set on finding a more veteran option for the closer's role. And just in case that point hadn't been hammered home, manager Eric Wedge, who had once suggested he might be comfortable with Lewis returning as closer, offered strong comments Wednesday on the need to find somebody new.

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"You hate to put all your eggs in one basket," Wedge said. "Jensen did a great job at the end, but he's still unproven. Until you've done it a whole year, or really even beyond that, you can't look at someone as a proven closer. There are too many X factors involved there."

Of course, the search for a closer has some X factors, as well. The Indians have no shortage of competition in the market for back-end relief help, as the Mets, Brewers, Angels, Cardinals, Rays and Tigers are among the teams looking for somebody. And the Tribe is always limited by its mid-market payroll. But given the competitive market and the need to improve the 'pen, the Indians do appear more willing than usual to go the multiyear route with a reliever.

They are less willing to stick with Lewis, even though the 24-year-old converted 13 straight opportunities at the end of the year, after Joe Borowski was released and Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi flamed out in the ninth.

When told of Wedge's remarks, the 24-year-old Lewis took no offense.

"It's a logical thing, especially from last year and how the whole situation unfolded," Lewis said. "I don't think it would hurt at all to have two closers, per se. At the least, you get a chance to learn from a guy who has done it for a while. It's only going to benefit us and make our bullpen deeper."

One guy who has done it for a long while is the 41-year-old Trevor Hoffman, who is the game's all-time leader with 554 saves. Hoffman's long tenure with the Padres has come to a close, and the Indians have been in touch with his agent, Rick Thurman.

Lewis specifically mentioned Hoffman as a veteran he could stand to learn from.

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"As a young kid, if you sign a guy like Trevor Hoffman, you're talking about the all-time saves leader," Lewis said. "He's been in every possible situation. It's one of those things, as a young player and a young closer trying to make yourself better, why wouldn't you welcome the chance to learn from a guy like that? To have a chance to learn from a guy like that would be priceless."

It might not necessarily take a multiyear offer to land Hoffman, and that makes him a "pass the baton" type of guy, should the Indians view Lewis as the likely closing candidate of the future. And that might, indeed, be the view, if Wedge's other comments about Lewis are any indication.

"This guy has got the guts, he's got the confidence, and I think he has the mindset to do it," Wedge said. "Because of that, I feel he's capable of doing it. Whether or not that plays out, time will tell. You hate to go into the season hoping for that, if you have the opportunity to go out and get somebody who's proven in that role."

Hoffman isn't the only proven closer available. Kerry Wood is on the open market now that the Cubs have replaced him with Carlos Marmol and brought aboard Kevin Gregg as ninth-inning insurance. But it would definitely take a multiyear contract -- perhaps a three- or four-year deal -- to land Wood.

In the trading market, the Mariners' J.J. Putz, the Pirates' Matt Capps and the Orioles' George Sherrill might be available. And if the Rockies decide to dangle the newly acquired Huston Street, the Indians would most assuredly have interest.

Lewis is watching this all play out from his offseason home in Nashville, Tenn., where he has been focusing his workouts on his core and lower body in an attempt to have more consistent velocity in 2009.

"To be able to have a solid foundation," he said, "and be able to build off that and hit the ground running will be a really good thing to have going into this year."

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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