04/03/2004 3:10 PM ET
Future is now for Escobar, Crisp
Young outfielders will share time in Indians' outfield
By Joseph Santoliquito / Special to MLB.com
|Alex Escobar is fully recovered from the knee surgery that limited him to 28 games in 2003. (Mark Duncan/AP)
PHILADELPHIA -- The last four days have certainly changed this season's perspective for Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar. They've gone from two young players who were struggling just to make the team, to playing a major role in the Indians' success this year.
Their elevation was escalated when Milton Bradley, the original starting center fielder, left the team on Wednesday in Kissimmee, Fla., after Indians manager Eric Wedge benched him for jogging to first after he'd hit a popup to short center field.
Bradley's departure means the arrival of Crisp and Escobar.
"I'll go into this season with the same perspective as I did before this occurred, and that's to play hard and have fun," said Crisp, owner of one of the best names in pro sports and a .266 batting average in 99 games for the Indians last season. "To be truthful, I didn't think I had a shot at starting this year. Just trying to make the team was the biggest priority for me. I really don't
know what to make of the Bradley situation, but I've made the team."
For Escobar, the chance to play every day appears a nice ending from having surgery on his left knee to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament two years ago. Last year could have been considered a rehab season for Escobar, who played in 28 games and hit .273 in 99 at-bats.
"It was tough when I was hurt, but it's behind me and I never told myself I wouldn't be playing again," Escobar said. "Right now, I have no preference where the team puts me, whether in left, right or center field. I just want to be out there, but center field is more comfortable to me, and that's where I
was brought up playing."
Wedge, however, was noncommittal as to who the regular center fielder would be.
"There's no strict game plan with this," Wedge said. "No one right now is strictly playing center field. There's going to be days when both Coco and Alex are in the lineup. They'll both get their fair share of playing time."
Wedge did say he would like to bat Crisp lower in the lineup in the beginning of the season, and work his
way up the lineup. Escobar could possibly bat cleanup against left-handed pitchers, with first baseman Ben Broussard hitting fourth against right-handers.
"This is a young team that's subject to change, so we'll try to mix and match a little bit," Wedge said. "We won't be as consistent with a lineup as much as I'd like it to be, but we have a much better idea of what these guys can do, much better than we did last year."
Bradley's situation broached an interesting response from Indians general manager Mark Shapiro before the game against the Phillies
in new Citizens Bank Park.
Asked what has been the most surprising development of this last month with the
Indians, Shapiro said, "It doesn't have Milton Bradley on it.
"The level of interest in Bradley has been strong, and the progression good," Shapiro added. "We have no timetable as to when we're going to make a trade for Bradley, but I like the depth of talent in our outfield, which I think is the strongest area in our organization. Escobar and Crisp certainly made strong statements this spring. The communication between us and Bradley's agent has been very consistent. We're on the same page."
Shapiro did not say what teams were interested in Bradley, but the Mets and Dodgers were reportedly two teams that were showing interest in the switch-hitting outfielder, whom the Indians picked up in a trade with Montreal for Zack Day on July 31, 2001.
Shapiro's focus is on what was best for the team.
"When we win, we want to make a statement about how we win," Shapiro said. "I think an example for us is the New England Patriots. They win as a team, and they make decisions based on what's best for their team. Our only chance to win is to win as a team, we can't compensate for individuals."
Wedge laid out two plans of attack this season. Against right-handers, opposing teams could see a batting order of Matt Lawton (left field), Omar Vizquel (shortstop), Jody Gerut (right field), Broussard (first base), Casey Blake (third base), Victor Martinez (catcher), Travis Hafner (designated hitter), Ronnie Belliard (second base) and Crisp (center field). Against lefties, it could be Belliard, Vizquel, Gerut, Escobar (RF/LF), Broussard, Blake, Martinez, Lawton (DH) and Crisp.
"We have a team that we think has a lot of balance," Wedge said. "We can move some guys around a little, but there's not really anyone we have set for fourth. Whoever bats fourth will be the cleanup hitter."
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.