GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jeremy Sowers had a better day than his beloved alma mater.
Sowers, whose spring debut was delayed by a sore shoulder, gave up a two-run homer to Cincinnati's Jonny Gomes in the second inning but Travis Hafner hit a tape-measure shot in the fifth as Cleveland rallied for a 6-2 win over the Reds on Thursday, the Indians' fourth straight over their new Arizona housemates.
Sowers pitched two pain-free innings. The left-hander's only discomfort came afterward when he was informed that Vanderbilt was knocked out of the NCAA tournament on a buzzer-beating shot by Murray State.
“Was it a real shot?” Sowers asked. “I had them in the Sweet 16. I thought they could at least do that. I liked the matchup with Butler. That stinks.”
Hafner's blast in the fifth off Enerio Del Rosario broke a 2-all tie, and Cleveland's Wes Hodges hit a wind-aided homer off Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey in the fourth as the Indians improved to 4-0 against the Reds, who began sharing Goodyear Ballpark with their northern Ohio neighbors this spring.
Like one of the NCAAs lower-seeded teams, Sowers is trying to fight off elimination with the Indians.
The 26-year-old's career has been a series of highs, lows and in-betweens. He spent last season bouncing back and forth between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus. He even had his first trip to the bullpen.
This year, he's not sure what the Indians have in store for him.
Because of the inflammation in his shoulder, Sowers has been dropped from the race for one of two openings in Cleveland's starting rotation. He could make the opening-day roster as a reliever, but that's assuming he's able to throw strikes, get batters out and that his shoulder holds up.
Sowers is out of options, which means the Indians may have to put him on waivers. It's also possible he could begin the season on the disabled list.
At this point, Sowers, who was selected in the first round by both the Reds (2001) and Indians (2004) just wants to pitch.
“Ultimately, it's just about being healthy,” he said. “If my place isn't here and it's somewhere else, that's fine. Whatever they decide is fine. I've been treated exceptionally well in this organization. If I walked out that door and they said, 'goodbye,' that would be fine.”
Indians manager Manny Acta was impressed with Sowers' debut.
“He was able to compete and throw the ball with some pop considering what he has gone through the last couple months,” Acta said. “He made two mistakes, a single and a homer, but other than that, it's a step in the right direction for him.”
Hafner's blast to center went an estimated 440 feet, smacking off the giant green screen behind the outfield wall. It was another positive sign for the Indians and Hafner, who hit just 16 homers last season, that he may finally be back after undergoing surgery in 2008.
“He's feeling good,” Acta said of his DH. “He's getting all the extra work that he's asked for, and I'm sure that if the guy is healthy that he's going to help us out.”
Gomes is trying to win the Reds' regular job in left, and he strengthened his case with his homer and a diving, backhanded catch to rob Mark Grudzielanek of extra bases.
“I'm trying to get the whole sandwich together, hit left-handers, right-handers,” said Gomes, who is competing with Chris Dickerson for the spot in left. “I'm trying to show them I could play defense. I'm out there going 100 percent all the time. I want to show them I have range. I made the play today. I got one in the center-field gap the other day. I'm trying to make the non believers, believers.”
NOTES: Aaron Boone, who played third base for both the Reds and Indians, visited Cleveland's clubhouse before the game. He's working for ESPN. ... The Reds optioned LHP Bill Bray and INF Yonder Alonso and to Triple-A Louisville. The club also assigned RHP Jon Adkins and OF Josh Anderson to Louisville and optioned RHP Jordan Smith and LHP Philippe Valiquette to Carolina. Cincinnati has 48 players left in camp. ... Indians 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, sidelined for a week with a strained left groin, is expected to play Friday. ... Acta had nothing new to report on closer Kerry Wood (back muscle) or 1B Russell Branyan (herniated disc), who are both sidelined with injuries.
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