CLEVELAND - Don't say MRI or surgery around the Indians' clubhouse. It is not cursing or swearing that the Cleveland folks have a real disdain for - it is the suggestion that one of the Tribe's sometimes creaky stars might need an extended visit under the knife of an orthopedic specialist.
They get very nervous about any talk like that, and with good reason. Injuries are a hot-button topic in Cleveland.
This is the team that had to run 34 pitchers through its major league roster just to complete last season, which was the first time the Indians did not win the American League's Central Division crown.
The Tribe started 2001 with three of its core players on the disabled list - third baseman Travis Fryman and starting pitchers Charles Nagy and Jaret Wright. It looks like it will be some time before any of them take the field this season.
Fryman suffered a tear in the elbow of his throwing arm in spring training and might be lost for another month. Nagy is still at the team's facility in Winter Haven continuing a lengthy rehab after elbow surgery and is a long way from ready for a Jacobs Field start. Wright is still on the rehab list and working out in Florida after shoulder surgery, and is considered three weeks away.
Centerfielder and leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton joined that group when he left the second game of the season with a strained calf muscle. Although he has not been placed on the D/L, Lofton has not played since he got hurt running to first on a base hit.
Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel has had his fill of making out lineup cards without all of his soldiers in camp.
“We need Travis and we also need Lofton, because that's our lineup,” Manuel said.
Yesterday, for the third straight game, Manuel said he planned to play Lofton, “if he says he feels good.” Lofton took batting practice, “but he still had pain,” Manuel said. His official status remains day-to-day.
Fryman's fortunes took a definite turn for the worse on Friday when he pulled himself out of a game at Triple-A Buffalo after experiencing a twinge or burning in his elbow. The former Tiger and five-time All Star tried to put the best spin on his throwing arm problems yesterday.
“I think it just needs some more time - it's not a setback,” Fryman said. “This particular injury does not have a specific time table.”
Manuel can't mask his concern.
`I'm starting to worry about Travis. This is taking longer than I thought, and we need him in there.”
Fryman said before yesterday's game that he expects to begin a strengthening program today, but rest the arm from any throwing for a while. He said he will likely go to the Tribe's Double-A Akron affiliate at some point and get in some swings as a designated hitter before testing the arm any further.
“Not once has surgery been suggested,” Cleveland assistant general manager Mark Shapiro said. “If Travis were a pitcher it would be different, but the history for position players who come up with elbow problems indicates cutting isn't advisable, since rest provides the scar tissue to allow them to throw well enough to handle it.”
Shapiro added that Fryman will likely be out another three weeks, and maybe an additional week after that before a full throwing motion is an option.
“But no surgery,” Shapiro said.
The Indians used the disabled list 20 times with 16 different players during 2000, and lost 974 man days due to injury over the course of the season. That figure does not include outfielder and designated hitter Wil Cordero, who missed the last 22 days of the season with a broken right hand, but was not placed on the D/L. In 1999, the Tribe lost 924 man days to injuries and used the disabled list 22 times
RIPKEN'S LAST TRIP? Yesterday might have been the last time Tribe fans will get a first-hand look at future Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Many expect the Baltimore third baseman to make 2001, which will be his 20th full season in the major leagues, to also be his last. The Tribe will play three games in Baltimore later this month, and that will be it between the two teams for the remainder of the regular season.
Ripken, who became the 24th player to reach the 3,000 hit milestone on April 15 of 2000, owns baseball longest consecutive games-played streak. He asked out of the Baltimore lineup on Sept. 20, the final day of the 1998 season, ending his streak at 2,632 straight games played. The last time Ripken did not start or play prior to that was May 29, 1982.
MCDONALD TO BUFFALO: To make room on the roster for yesterday's starter, C.C. Sabathia, the Tribe sent infielder John McDonald to Triple-A Buffalo. McDonald spent the last five weeks of the 2000 season in Cleveland, and played in two games after starting 2001 in the big leagues. He has played in 29 major league games over the last three seasons.