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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2005

Westbrook is fading fast just like up-down Indians

CLEVELAND - Jake Westbrook's record is a lot like his sinkerball.

It just keeps dropping.

Westbrook's 12 losses are the most in the major leagues.

The 27-year-old Cleveland Indians right-hander is more than halfway toward a dreaded 20-loss season.

Only two pitchers have suffered 20 or more defeats in one season in the last quarter-century - Oakland's Brian Kingman (8-20) in 1980 and Detroit's Mike Maroth (9-21) in 2003.

Westbrook, who has seven wins and a 4.51 ERA, has no interest whatsoever in becoming the newest member of the laughable losers' club.

"There's a little frustration, but I'm just trying to do the best I can and not worry about my record or ERA," he said.

Westbrook, who made the American League All-Star team last year after being promoted from reliever to starter and posting a 14-9 record and 3.38 ERA, has been victimized by both bad luck and bad pitching.

He was 0-3 with a hefty 6.57 ERA this month before finally beating Kansas City 10-1 on Thursday. He didn't allow an earned run against the Royals, but Westbrook was wobbly, scattering nine hits while working out of several jams.

His well-documented woes have had a negative impact on the fast-fading Indians. They were 10 games over .500 after sweeping a doubleheader from Detroit on July 4, but have since taken a nosedive in the standings.

"Early in the season, probably the first 15 or 16 starts, I definitely felt good about where I was," Westbrook said. "As of late, I haven't pitched well at all. I need to work on things and try to get it back."

Westbrook, who has posted just one winning record in parts of six major league seasons, also would benefit from some run support. He has suffered five one-run losses this year and the up-and-down Indians have scored three or fewer runs in 10 of his 21 starts.

On the other hand, Westbrook had three outings the first two months where the opposition banged him around like a batting-practice pitcher.

The result: an 0-3 record with a 25.83 ERA.

Mind you, this is the same guy who was one of the league's top pitchers last summer, when he had the third-best ERA (3.38) in the AL and tied for the league lead with five complete games.

"Last year, I was pretty consistent for the whole season," Westbrook said. "This year, I haven't really been able to get that rhythm that I had early in the season last year."

Westbrook's saga is nothing new. He's had curves thrown at him throughout his career.

He was Colorado's No. 1 draft pick in 1996, but was dealt to the Montreal organization the very next year. Two minor league seasons later, the Expos shipped Westbrook to New York as part of the Hideki Irabu deal.

Westbrook finally reached the big leagues with the Yankees in 2000, but the Bronx Bombers sent him to the Tribe as part of the David Justice trade.

Now, a year after his breakthrough season with the Indians, Westbrook is trying to divert attention away from a potential 20-loss season.

"I try not to reflect on the year until it's over," he said.

Losing 20 games is not a tragedy, nor does it spell the end of a career, as Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Robin Roberts have proven.

However, if Westbrook doesn't get command of his best pitch soon, his sorry season will sink to even lower depths.



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