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Published: Friday, 3/25/2005

Indians' Blake in comfortable position

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Casey Blake is used to bouncing around.

It's a good thing.

During a three-year span from 2000-02, he played for five teams and three organizations.

Blake finally found a home with Cleveland in 2003, and he was the Indians' starting third baseman the last two years.

This spring, though, manager Eric Wedge asked Blake to move to the outfield - specifically left field - to accommodate former All-Star Aaron Boone at the hot corner.

Blake never flinched, although the position change has proven to be quite an adjustment.

"I've been just concentrating on my defense and trying to learn a new position," Blake said. "It's really weird. I'm still trying to get used to the different scenery and scenarios. Everything's different about it.

"I'm so much farther away from home plate now in left field than I was when I was at third base. I have so many things on my mind, like waiting for the ball to get there. I never had to do that before.

"It's been a challenge, for sure, but I like challenges. It's been fun. There has been something new every day."

When the Indians signed Boone as a free agent last June, it was obvious that the versatile Blake would have to move elsewhere once Boone's surgically repaired knee healed.

For the longest time, it looked like Blake might move across the diamond to second base, but the Indians re-signed All-Star Ron Belliard just before Christmas.

Wedge then had Blake targeted for right field, but that was before Cleveland signed slugging outfielder Juan Gonzalez in mid-January. A career right fielder, Gonzalez will settle in that spot if he makes the team.

Just to be safe, Wedge has used Blake in both left and right this spring. He has exhibited a strong arm and has yet to commit an error in 13 games.

"He's looked real good at both spots, but he's really starting to get comfortable with left field," Wedge said.

Yesterday, Blake started in left and went 2-for-4 with a home run and scored two runs in Cleveland's 8-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chain of Lakes Park. He is batting .378 this spring with three homers and eight RBIs.

"It's been fine so far in left field, I have no real complaints," he said. "It has not been super difficult, but it may be a little too early to speculate. I might encounter some more things I didn't expect.

"If you can catch a ball and throw it, you should be able to do it. I'm confident I can catch and throw. The only difference is I have a bigger glove out there."

Blake, who is also expected to spell Boone at third base during the regular season, said he played the outfield a few times in the minors, most recently with Triple-A Edmonton three years ago.

"Casey is the type of ballplayer we want here in Cleveland," Wedge said. "He is a team player all the way around. He's always willing to do whatever it takes for us to improve as a team.

"He knows we're better with both he and Aaron Boone in the lineup."

The 31-year-old Blake, who earned $352,400 last year, is coming off his best season in the big leagues, hitting .271 with 93 runs scored, 36 doubles, 28 homers and 88 RBIs in 152 games.

In 2003, his first full season in majors, he hit 17 home runs and drove in 67 runs.

Blake, who was eligible for salary arbitration, was rewarded with a new two-year contract in January that includes a club option for 2007. The new deal calls for him to be paid $2.25 million this season and $3.05 million next year, when he could also earn another $150,000 in bonuses.

"Before, I always had doubts as to whether I could play in the big leagues," Blake said. "When you're not a big-time prospect, it just seems like a lot of teams sit on the fence and don't give you a real chance.

"The Indians believed in me and gave me a chance when no one else would. I think things have worked out just fine for both of us."

Contact Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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