Cabrera experiment gains steam

Cabrera experiment gains steam

ST. PETERSBURG -- The ball scooted far to Asdrubal Cabrera's right.

The shortstop chased it down, backhanded it, spun, leaped and fired the ball to first to nab Willy Aybar in what would have been, inarguably, a single, had Jhonny Peralta been manning the position.

"I like to make that play," Cabrera said with a big smile.

That play Thursday night summed up the Indians' latest lineup tinkering, in which manager Eric Wedge has placed a greater emphasis on the defensive alignment by moving Cabrera to his natural position at short and moving Peralta to what is expected to be his future position at third.

Wedge went with the alignment again Friday, and he could make it three games in a row Saturday, when the Indians and Rays continue their four-game set at Tropicana Field in front of a FOX audience. Dick Stockton will call the play-by-play, with Tim McCarver and Ken Rosenthal serving as analysts. It is the third time this season the Indians have been included in the FOX "Saturday Game of the Week" slate.

Given starter Carl Pavano's penchant for inducing ground balls, Wedge could benefit from the expanded range Cabrera provides at short.

But the Indians have also benefited from what Cabrera has done on the offensive end this season. His four-hit effort Thursday was his 15th multi-hit game this season, and he entered Friday tied for 10th in the AL with a .336 average.

"I feel comfortable at the plate," Cabrera said. "I'm swinging at strikes and helping the team."

A year ago, the Indians sent Cabrera down to Triple-A with a .184 average. The Tribe had hoped he would pick up where he left off in the last seven weeks of '07, when he was promoted from the Minors and sparked the lineup with a .283 average, nine doubles, two triples, three homers and 22 RBIs in 45 games.

Looking lost at the plate early in '08, Cabrera spent a month and a half working on his approach and increasing the intensity of his physical conditioning program at Triple-A. When he came back to the Indians after the All-Star break, he more closely resembled his '07 self. He batted .320 in the second half, with 13 doubles, three homers and 33 RBIs in 61 games.

"He really put it together," Wedge said. "He worked to build a foundation. When he came back, it wasn't like on '07, when he came up on a roll in the Minors. It was a real approach, and he's stuck with it."

What's noticeable in that approach is the way Cabrera is working the opposing pitcher into hitters' counts. He's seeing nearly four pitches per plate appearance, and he's drawing more walks.

On the defensive end, with Cabrera at short, the Indians have a guy who can get to those grounders to the gaps that Peralta had so much trouble with. While Wedge isn't advertising this as a permanent move, it's certainly a more sound setup from the defensive perspective.

"I don't care what position I play," Cabrera said. "I just try to make the plays I need to make, and I feel really comfortable right now."

Pitching matchup
CLE: RHP Carl Pavano (3-3, 6.45 ERA)
Pavano is riding a three-game winning streak in which he's allowed eight runs on 21 hits over his last 19 2/3 innings. He pitched better against the White Sox on Monday than his final line might indicate. He allowed four runs on 10 hits with three strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings, but all the runs came after the offense staked him to a 6-0 lead and he began pitching more aggressively -- perhaps too aggressively -- in the strike zone. Pavano is 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays. He gave up six runs over 9 1/3 innings against them in a win last year.

TB: RHP Matt Garza (3-2, 3.56 ERA)
Garza has the best stuff on the Rays staff, and at age 25, the right-hander seems to be maturing on the mound, where he has experienced problems controlling his emotions in the past. The one thing he has lacked is consistency, as he has been either lights-out or off his game. Garza needs to better learn how to win when he doesn't have his best stuff. He posted his third consecutive quality start in his last outing, on Sunday night against the Red Sox, by allowing three runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out six in seven innings. He is 0-3 with a 6.12 ERA in five career starts against the Indians and 9-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 19 career starts at Tropicana Field.

Grady Sizemore led off Friday's game with a home run. It was the 19th leadoff homer for Sizemore in his career, giving him the Indians' club record. Sizemore had been in a first-place tie with Kenny Lofton. ... The Indians have not announced their starter for Sunday's game, but the most likely option is left-hander David Huff, who is 5-1 with a 4.35 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Columbus. ... The Indians had three different hitters (Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Shin-Soo Choo) record a four-hit night Thursday. According to Elias, the last time the Indians had three players each with four or more hits in a nine-inning game came on Sept. 5, 1987, when Tommy Hinzo, Joe Carter and Mel Hall did it. ... Martinez entered Friday as the AL batting leader with a .400 average and as the hit leader with 56. The last time the Indians had a batting champ was 1954 (Bobby Avila), and they've only had one hit leader since 1950 (Lofton, in 1994).

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• WTAM 1100

Up next
• Sunday: Indians (TBD) at Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 1-4, 7.27), 1:38 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Indians (Cliff Lee, 2-5, 3.00) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 3-1, 1.80), 8:10 p.m. ET

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.