Casey Blake ... catching flies?
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Casey Blake's only error of the spring so far has been an errant toss in the clubhouse.
The career third baseman seems to be making a smooth transition in learning to play the outfield.
"I guess I haven't embarrassed myself yet," said Blake. "At least not out on the field."
Playing a friendly board game during a lunch break is another story.
Pitchers Bob Wickman, David Riske and Jake Westbrook take "tee times" for a friendly game of golf in which eager competitors roll a series of dice to determine scores. Blake is among the players who crowd around the pitchers' locker area to play.
"Leave it to me to be the guy with a lost ball," said Blake. "I rolled the dice off the board."
The Indians rolled the dice this offseason in deciding to switch their 31-year-old third baseman Blake to the outfield -- where he had played a grand total of two games in the minors a few seasons ago. So far, it looks like the Tribe hit the jackpot.
Former Gold Glove winner Rick Manning, the Indians' outfield coach, believes Blake will become a good outfielder.
"Number one, he's an athlete," said Manning. "Number two, he takes instruction, and number three, he works his tail off. From that standpoint, you could say he's a guy who can do it all."
Blake admits that he still has a lot to learn, but also says that he feels more comfortable every day in his new role.
"I have good teammates and good coaches," he said. "They're all helping me a lot.
"One of the first things you learn is there is a lot more running. It takes the ball longer to get to you. You don't have to be on your toes quite as much, but you have to be ready for when the ball is hit to you."
He had an impressive game against Houston a couple weeks ago in which he threw out the Astros' Craig Biggio trying to stretch a single into a double. He also ran into foul territory and caught a slicing foul ball -- right after two Astros had lined base hits in front of him.
"On one of those, as I came in I was thinking, 'Did I do the right thing here? Could I have got to that ball with a better jump?,' " said Blake. "Like everything else in this game, it's a matter of time until you feel completely comfortable. Right now I am constantly questioning myself on everything.
"Like when there's nobody on base and the ball is hit to you, you have to make sure it doesn't get by you. So maybe you don't charge in quite as hard. If there are guys on base, you can't lay back, you have to charge and make a play."
SPECIAL TEACHERS: Paul Assenmacher and Paul Sorrento are in camp this week, helping with some of the minor-league players. Assenmacher, a lefty reliever for Cleveland from 1995 through 1999, is working with the pitcher on their breaking balls. Sorrento, who played first base for the Tribe from 1992 through 1995, is working with hitters and first basemen.
GETTING OFFENSIVE: The Indians lead American League teams in slugging percentage (.495) and are tied for first with 28 homers. They are second in runs scored (132), tied for third in batting average (.293) and third in doubles (49) and averaging 6.6 runs a game. Last spring, the Tribe totaled 22 homers and185 runs (5.78 a game) in 32 exhibition games. ... DH Travis Hafner is tied for third among AL players with four homers, OFs Coco Crisp and Ryan Ludwick are tied for the AL lead in doubles with six. Blake is tied for fifth in runs (10) and is seventh in slugging percentage (.727).
STEALING AWAY: Indians catchers are struggling to gun down opposing basestealers. Victor Martinez is 0-for-8 and Josh Bard 0-for-2, while minor-leaguers Dusty Wathan (1-for-2) and Ryan Garko (1-for-1) have done much better.
TV TIME: Fox Sports Net Ohio is scheduled to televise the Indians' game against Los Angeles on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. The network, which carries 153 of Cleveland's 162 regular-season games, is scheduled to show three other exhibition games: Friday, March 25 vs. Cincinnati at 7:05 p.m., Sunday, March 27 vs. Tampa Bay at 1:05 p.m. and Monday, March 28 vs. Atlanta at 1:05 p.m. Former players Rick Manning and Mike Hegan once again will join play-by-play man John Sanders in the broadcast booth.
UPCOMING RADIO (WTAM, 1100-AM):
March 25 vs. Cincinnati at 7:05 p.m.
March 26 vs. Detroit, 1:05 p.m.
March 27 vs. Tampa Bay, 1:05 p.m.
March 28 vs. Atlanta 1:05 p.m.
March 31 vs. Detroit, 1:05 p.m.
April 2 at Atlanta 1:05 p.m.