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Opening Day roster coming into focus

Opening Day roster coming into focus

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Players filtered in and out of manager Manny Acta's office all morning on Wednesday. And in the process, the Tribe's Opening Day roster was essentially set.

Rookie Michael Brantley made the club as the starting left fielder, and non-roster invitee Austin Kearns will be the club's fourth outfielder. Brantley had a strong September and took that into a strong camp, but he wasn't assured of a job until it was determined earlier this week that Russell Branyan will open the season on the disabled list.

"This feels great," Brantley said. "I can't complain at all. I'm very excited to say I'm going to be a big leaguer and break camp with the team. I worked very hard for this opportunity."

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Lou Marson was given the expected news that he will be the starting catcher.

Jensen Lewis and non-roster invitee Jamey Wright claimed the last two spots in the bullpen.

Non-roster invitee Mark Grudzielanek landed the middle infield utility spot, while Andy Marte grabbed the corner infield utility spot.

All that was left to be determined was the final rotation spot, which will go to either left-hander David Huff, who was set to start Wednesday's game against the White Sox, and right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The Indians were planning to make their final determination after Huff's outing. He is the favorite for the job.

Before the Indians purchase the contracts of Kearns, Wright and Grudzielanek, they will ensure the three veterans get through the last few days of camp healthy. Grudzielanek is the only major question mark in that regard, as he hasn't played the past few days because of right hamstring soreness. But he's scheduled to start in Tempe against the Angels on Thursday.

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Those are the guys who got good news Wednesday. The meetings weren't as positive for several others.

Left-hander Jeremy Sowers, whose shoulder soreness pulled him out of the battle for a rotation job, was informed he has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. Thus completes a fall from grace for the former No. 1 Draft pick, who has yet to regain the form that made him an effective big league starter in the second half of 2006.

"We had to go off what we see and compare him to the other guys and go off what we saw last year," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "It was a tough decision because we like the guy as a person and we've been through a lot with him. Albeit removed from it a few years, we've seen him have success up here."

Sowers, who is 18-30 with a 5.18 ERA in his Major League career, is out of Minor League options. He is trying to build up his strength and stamina after the shoulder injury. He got roughed up in two Cactus League games this spring.

"I wish I had more opportunity to build up some arm strength and get a few bullpens to get confident before getting out there [in games]," Sowers said. "I'm glad for the most part that the pain is gone. We'll see if it chooses to come back or stays away."

The Indians also made a move with Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 27, with right elbow tendinitis. Actually, this news isn't all bad for Ambriz, as it means the Indians like him enough to keep him around as an option and he has not yet been offered back to the D-backs.

Still, the elbow problem was a bummer for Ambriz, who was hoping to take advantage of the opportunity to land an Opening Day roster spot. He was the first player taken by the Indians and given such a shot in 15 years.

"Worst timing of my life," he said of the injury.

Outfielder Trevor Crowe and catcher Wyatt Toregas were optioned out to Columbus. Shapiro said the decision of Kearns over Crowe for the last outfield spot was particularly difficult.

"Trevor Crowe had a great camp and had good, albeit a small number, at-bats last year," Shapiro said. "But Kearns and Brantley had good camps, too, and are good players. Austin complements the three left-handers [in the outfield] very well. And we also felt we wanted Trevor to play and not to be a part-time player at this point in his career. That one was not an easy decision."

Several non-roster invitees -- reliever Saul Rivera, infielders Luis Rodriguez, Niuman Romero and Brian Buscher and catcher Chris Gimenez -- were all informed they will be headed to the Minors.

Rivera will be a name to watch with the Clippers. Acta likes him, based off the time the two shared with the Nationals, and he had a strong camp, posting a 1.04 ERA in eight appearances. The Indians just didn't have room for Rivera on the roster, though he has an out clause in his Minor League contract if he's not with the big league club by May 15.

"I'll keep working and see what happens," Rivera said.

Anderson Hernandez, recently claimed off waivers from the Mets, also didn't make the club, though his status would change if Grudzielanek has an unexpected setback.

The Sowers move cleared one of the three roster spots that will be needed to make room for Grudzielanek, Kearns and Wright. Shapiro did not reveal the two other moves that would be made to make that room, though one of them will likely involve Hernandez.

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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