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Francisco not playing himself out of job

Francisco not playing himself out of job

CLEVELAND -- The Indians' outfield depth creates a constant sense of competition, and early in the 2009 season, it's hot-hitting top prospect Matt LaPorta putting the early pressure on left fielder Ben Francisco.

The key word, though, is "early," because Francisco isn't going to play himself out of a job in the first month of the season, and LaPorta, getting his first taste of the Triple-A level, will still get his share of grooming time.

But as the Indians head into Wednesday's finale of a three-game set with the Red Sox still looking to find their offensive footing this season, it will be interesting to see how Francisco responds to the early heat.

Perhaps his impressive 2-for-4 effort in Tuesday's game, in which he cranked out a three-run homer off Brad Penny in the second inning and had a key sacrifice bunt in the ninth, is a sign that he's quite ready to respond.

Hitting coach Derek Shelton, for one, doesn't think Francisco's early troubles (a .232 average and .706 OPS) were an extension of his slump last September, when he hit .188 (13-for-69) with one homer and four RBIs.

"No. 1, he's not swinging at pitches he used to swing at," Shelton said before Tuesday's game. "And two, he's trying to do too much."

Francisco began the season in the No. 8 spot of manager Eric Wedge's lineup but soon found himself bumped up to No. 6. He has since dropped back down, falling into the No. 9 spot on Tuesday night.

"It's not a punishment," Shelton said. "We've just shuffled some people around. We moved Asdrubal [Cabrera] from the No. 9 spot to the No. 2 spot, so someone's going to move down there. It's just how our lineup sets up and works."

Whatever LaPorta is doing at Triple-A, it's working. He entered Tuesday batting .381 (24-for-63) with five homers, three doubles, two triples, seven walks and 14 RBIs. He was the International League Player of the Week last week.

Yes, the Indians have noticed what LaPorta, the key acquisition in last summer's trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers, has done, but they also recognize that it's a small sample. Additionally, if LaPorta were to be called up today, his service time clock would begin ticking, and he'd be eligible for arbitration after the 2011 season. That's certainly something to consider for the budget-conscious Tribe.

Looking at LaPorta from a baseball, rather than a business, perspective, Wedge said he doesn't think calling up a hot bat from Columbus would necessarily fix what's been ailing his Indians for the better part of the season.

"You're happy to see guys produce at the Triple-A level," Wedge said. "That's important. But one player here or there is not going to make a difference when it comes to us winning or losing ballgames. It's different areas of our club. I think you look at what we broke camp with and how we feel about our guys who are here. There's going to be guys at Triple-A who can definitely help us, but the difference-makers are the core guys up here and what they do over the course of six months."

LaPorta's day will come. But for now, it's Francisco's time to show what he's got. Tuesday was a nice start.

Pitching matchup
CLE: RHP Fausto Carmona (1-3, 7.36 ERA)
Against the Twins on Friday, Carmona went six-plus innings, giving up five runs -- four earned -- on eight hits and two walks, striking out seven. Heading into the series finale with the Red Sox, Carmona faces a team that has given him all kinds of problems. In all, Carmona is 1-4 in four starts against Boston, including two blown saves that went for losses from his days in the bullpen in the 2006 season. In his last start of 2008, Carmona gave up four runs on five hits and a walk in an inning of work, taking the loss against the Red Sox.

BOS: LHP Jon Lester (1-2, 4.88 ERA)
The left-hander worked hard in his last start, throwing 114 pitches over six innings against the Yankees on Friday. It turned out to be a quality start, with Lester scattering seven hits and two runs. He walked three and struck out seven to take a no-decision in a game the Red Sox won in 11 innings. After struggling in his first two starts, Lester has settled into a nice rhythm in his last two turns. Lester has made four starts in his career against the Indians, going 2-0 with a 4.03 ERA.

Tidbits
With Tuesday's win, the Indians beat the Red Sox at home in a regular-season game for the first time since July 25, 2007. ... Mark DeRosa notched the 10th four-plus hit night of his career with a 4-for-5 effort. ... Victor Martinez has an eight-game hitting streak in which he's batting .409. ... Shin-Soo Choo has a seven-game hitting streak. He's notched four doubles in that span. ... Ryan Garko has reached via a hit or walk in each of his 15 games played this year.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• STO-HD

On radio
• WTAM 1100

Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Indians (Carl Pavano, 0-3, 9.50) at Tigers (Armando Galarraga, 3-0, 1.85), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Indians (Aaron Laffey, 2-0, 2.41) at Tigers (TBD), 3:40 p.m. ET

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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