Notes: Blake's '08 role undetermined
Third baseman focused on playoffs; Key stretch closes
CHICAGO -- The thought creeps into Casey Blake's mind every so often. He just tries to drown it out with visions of the postseason.Still, Blake can't help but wonder what 2008 has in store for him. Sure, Blake is the Indians' everyday third baseman today. But with Andy Marte out of Minor League options next year and Asdrubal Cabrera's superb play causing some to wonder whether he'll bump Jhonny Peralta from shortstop to third, Blake wonders where he'll fit in. "You can't really help but think about it," Blake said. "But my main focus right now is just on winning and getting to the playoffs and the World Series. That's what most of my thoughts are about. Maybe if that happens, the other thing gets taken care of." If nothing else, Blake at least has experience being in this predicament of not knowing where he'll land. Last winter, he was expecting to bounce around between first base and right field this season. It wasn't until Spring Training that he began taking grounders at third, and it wasn't until Marte, the Opening Day third baseman, suffered a hamstring injury in April that Blake became the everyday man at the hot corner. "That was probably the turnaround of my season, I think," Blake said. "The way our team was fitting together, [Ryan] Garko was hitting the ball well, and they wanted to get him in the lineup at first. It just kind of fit. The team started to play pretty well at that time. I'm not saying that's [directly the reason], but having me at third gave our team more options." It also fortified the infield defense, which has been solid all season. "When [Blake] took over, he got off to a real good start, offensively and defensively," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's had a solid season for us. He's a very unselfish player. He's willing to do anything we ask, as long as he feels and we feel it's best for the ballclub." Blake, however, isn't as happy with his season as Wedge is. He feels he can do better than a .265 average, 15 homers and 66 RBIs. "I just know I'm better than what I've been playing," he said. "I know I can be that player and be better than what I am right now. At the end of the year, they'll look at statistics, but right now that doesn't mean anything. I just want to help the team get into the postseason." Blake's statistics will come into play when the Indians evaluate his situation this offseason. He signed a two-year deal with the club in 2005 and had his '07 option exercised, but he'll be 44 days of service time shy of free agency this winter, so he'll be eligible for salary arbitration. He wants to stay here. And he wants to stay at third. "I think it's the right fit for me," Blake said. "I know I can be a very valuable player for somebody at third base. I hope it's the Indians. I've had better years, and I just know that I can play a lot better than I have been." Lineup shakeup: Wednesday is the final day of the Indians' marathon of 23 games in 23 days, and Wedge decided to use it to rest two of his regulars. Travis Hafner and Peralta were both given the day off. Cabrera filled in at short, opening up second base for a rare start by Josh Barfield, and Trot Nixon took over DH duties for the afternoon. "It's a good day to do it, coupled with the off-day [Thursday]," Wedge said. "We've been pushing both of them pretty hard." Garko made his first start of the season in Hafner's No. 3 spot of the batting order. Franklin Gutierrez was bumped up to No. 5. Beat the shift: Hafner doesn't remember when, exactly, teams began employing the dramatic defensive shift to the right side of the field against him. But he doesn't blame them for doing so. "When you look at a player's charts, you can figure out most of the balls hit on the ground are pulled," Hafner said. "Over the course of a season, it's going to be the right defense." And it's a defense that has played a big part in Hafner's less-than-sparkling .253 average this season. No, he hasn't been driving the ball nearly as well as he has in years past, but the shift has also robbed him of a number of would-be hits. Pronk said teams didn't use the shift against him in the Minors, because he wasn't a pull hitter then. "I was more of an opposite-field hitter," he said. "I didn't pull the ball until my second or third year in the big leagues." Tribe tidbits: The American League's top team will have the choice of beginning the ALDS on either Wednesday, Oct. 3, or Thursday, Oct. 4. "It's interesting," Wedge said of the new arrangement. "I'm not sure what to think of that. It's not something we need to think about right now. We need to stay in the moment." ... The last time the Indians had three 15-game winners, as they do now with C.C. Sabathia (17-7), Fausto Carmona (16-8) and Paul Byrd (15-6), was in 2005. That year, Cliff Lee won 18 games, and Sabathia and Jake Westbrook each won 15. ... The Indians are 33-21 (.611) against their remaining five opponents this season. Down on the farm: Double-A Akron's bid for its third Eastern League championship in five years got off to a rough start Tuesday night. Reliever Ryan Edell gave up the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning, as the Aeros fell, 5-3, at Trenton in Game 1. Adam Miller started the game for the Aeros, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits over four innings. Eastern League MVP Jordan Brown homered in the loss. Game 2 is set for Wednesday night in Trenton. On deck: The Indians get their first day off in more than three weeks Thursday. They'll return to action Friday, kicking off the final homestand of the regular season with a 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Royals. Cy Young candidate Sabathia will start opposite Rookie of the Year candidate Brian Bannister (12-8, 3.46 ERA).
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.