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Published: Friday, 3/25/2011

Tribe's 'middle' is ready


Shin Soo Choo, right, is batting .311 after recording three hits in Wednesday's game against Kansas City. Shin Soo Choo, right, is batting .311 after recording three hits in Wednesday's game against Kansas City.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo combined for five hits as the middle of Cleveland's lineup looks ready to start the season.

Cleveland rookie Cord Phelps tripled in the winning run with none out in the ninth inning for an 8-7 exhibition win Wednesday over the Kansas City Royals.

Manager Manny Acta was more pleased with seeing Santana slide headfirst for a triple, steal a base, and get two hits. The catcher had surgery on his left knee in August.

"First thing I thought was, 'Nice surgery,'" Acta said. "I know Choo was impressed. He turned and said, 'I've never seen a five-tool catcher." Santana played first base as part of Acta's plan to keep the young slugger's legs fresh with an occasional move there.

Choo, hitting .311 after getting three hits, and cleanup man Santana were among several injured Cleveland players a year ago.

Leadoff man Grady Sizemore won't be ready for the season, though he is progressing from microfracture knee surgery in June. No. 2 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .400 and playing well at shortstop.

He missed six weeks in 2010 with a broken left forearm.

Both Acta and Royals manager Ned Yost are searching for more relief. Each got mixed results.

Sean O'Sullivan, the Royals' long reliever earlier this week, gave up four runs in the eighth and ninth.

Homers by Alcides Escobar and Kila Ka'aihue helped Kansas City to a 7-4 lead. O'Sullivan allowed three runs in the eighth after Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, and Aaron Crow held Cleveland to one run over the middle 4 1-3 innings.

Four Cleveland relievers yielded one run after starter Carlos Carrasco gave up six over 4 1-3 innings.

"Carlos was up in the zone a bit, but has pitched pretty well overall," Acta said. "We expect big things from this guy."

Escobar, a slick-fielding shortstop acquired from Milwaukee as part of the trade for 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke this offseason, has four homers and a .372 average

. Ka'aihue's fifth homer and three hits put him at .400.

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