CLEVELAND -- When the Indians take their annual team photo Wednesday afternoon, it will include just 12 players from the Opening Day roster and only four who have been with the club all season without the interruption of trips to the disabled list or the Minors. Yet the photo is coming at just the right time on the calendar for this Tribe team. Because after months of disappointment, the Indians are finally the picture of success. Behind Aaron Laffey's strong start, Asdrubal Cabrera's dazzling defense and Luis Valbuena's heroic hit, the Indians leaned heavily on their youth in Tuesday's 5-0 victory over the Rangers at Progressive Field. And that's the theme of a team that has won seven of 10 and 13 of 19 with a completely reformed roster.
"Obviously, we're a completely different ballclub right now," manager Eric Wedge said. "Different strengths and obviously different personnel. But you have to like the way these guys are playing. They're fun to watch." Cabrera was particularly fun to watch. With his childhood hero, Omar Vizquel, in the house and in the Rangers' lineup, Cabrera, wearing Vizquel's old No. 13, put on a show that brought back memories of "Little O." Cabrera showed off his superb range and accurate arm on two not-so-routine grounders up the middle in the seventh, and he drew cheers from the crowd of 21,870. With Cabrera having grown up in Venezuela watching Vizquel any chance he could get, one would think Cabrera would get a certain satisfaction out of this effort. But he said he was just doing his job. "Trying to make the outs," Cabrera said. "I know Omar played here a lot of years. He was one of my favorite players. But I just make the play and don't think about that." Between his bat and his defense, Cabrera has given the Indians every reason to believe he's cemented as their shortstop going forward. "He's hungry," Wedge said of Cabrera. "He doesn't believe that he can't get to any ball. He doesn't give up on anything. And he also understands that getting to it is only half the battle. He works to finish plays off." But first, Cabrera needs a pitcher who can induce those grounders, and he had one this night in the form of Laffey, who is making a fine audition for a 2010 rotation spot. Coming off an eight-inning effort in which he limited the Twins to one unearned run last week, Laffey (6-3, 3.25 ERA) was solid again for 6 2/3 scoreless innings in this one. He allowed just six hits with three walks and two strikeouts. "Walking in from the bullpen, I felt like I had just pitched yesterday," Laffey said. "It was good to stay on a rhythm and keep pumping strikes." In the first, Laffey was nearly thrown off his rhythm when the potent Rangers offense loaded the bases with one out. But Laffey threw a hanging slider to Josh Hamilton that was beaten into the ground, and Valbuena and Cabrera combined on the 4-6-3 double play to end the threat. "It was a breaking ball," Laffey said. "A bad one. You've got to love it when you don't throw it where you want to and the guy puts it on the ground." Said Hamilton: "I usually don't get doubled up." Everything involving the Indians has been a tad unusual the last few weeks. They have played a slate of contending teams and held their own, winning five of six series. And they made headway in claiming another with this series-opening victory. The win was in hand after the offense broke the game open in the third against Rangers starter Dustin Nippert. Grady Sizemore and Cabrera got the inning going with consecutive singles, and Shin-Soo Choo loaded the bases when he was hit by a pitch. Jhonny Peralta drew a walk to give the Indians a 1-0 lead, and Travis Hafner extended that lead by lining an RBI single to right. But the big hit belonged to the rookie Valbuena, who smacked a double down the right-field line to bring home a pair. One out later, rookie Trevor Crowe sent a sacrifice fly to center to bring in another run and make it 5-0. "We did a good job bunching hits and having one big inning," Wedge said. Behind Laffey's strong outing and superior relief work from Joe Smith and Tony Sipp, one big inning was enough. And the second-half surge of the transformed Tribe continued. "They get after it," Wedge said of his club. "They're hungry, and they're still learning." And at long last, they're photogenic.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.