Looking ahead: Indians open spring schedule with 12-2 rout of Astros

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP)—The air was chilled, though it didn’t have the same sting as October to the Cleveland Indians.

In atypical Florida weather, the Indians returned to the field for the first time since losing Game 7 of the AL championship series in Boston and opened their final Grapefruit League season with a 12-2 thumping of the Houston Astros on Thursday.

As fans bundled up or moved to sun-warmed seats to combat temperatures in the mid-50s, the Indians, who will relocate to Goodyear, Ariz., next spring, took their first step in a season they hope ends with a World Series trip.

They appeared to be on their way last year. But after taking a commanding 3-1 lead over the favored Red Sox, Cleveland lost three straight games—by a combined 30-5—and lost the series in stunning fashion.

This spring, the Indians are looking ahead.

“I think there’s a sense that last year was last year,” pitcher Jake Westbrook said. “This is a new year. We’ll take what we learned and position ourselves to do a little better. We want to remember the past and learn from it, but we’re not dwelling on it. We want to move forward.”

Cleveland manager Eric Wedge only played his regulars for a few innings, but it was the Indians’ youngsters who spoiled Houston manager Cecil Cooper’s spring debut.

Trevor Crowe drove in three runs, Andy Gonzalez and Wyatt Toregas had two RBIs apiece and Danny Sandoval homered for the Indians, who busted open a scoreless game with three runs in the fifth and four in the sixth.

Another Indians up-and-comer, first baseman Michael Aubrey, a former first-round pick who has battled injuries, had two hits and an RBI.

“It’s never been a matter of his ability to hit or play defense,” Wedge said. “It’s just a matter of him catching a break and staying healthy.”

For Houston’s pitchers, it was a matter of not throwing strikes. The Astros walked 10.

“I’m not a happy camper,” said Cooper, a former major leaguer and baseball lifer who served as Houston’s interim manager last year following Phil Garner’s firing. “We talked about not walking guys. We had a couple situations where we walked two guys in a row. That shouldn’t happen. These guys are major leaguers.”

The Astros didn’t swing the bats much better. Houston didn’t get its first hit until the sixth when Michael Bourn led off with a single.

One of Houston’s few bright spots was starter Wandy Rodriguez, who struck out three in two scoreless innings.

“Mucho frio,” Rodriguez said, blowing into his hands before talking about his start outside Houston’s clubhouse.

The left-hander was pleased with his control and location. And although he’ll likely open the season as Houston’s No. 2 or 3 starter, Rodriguez is taking nothing for granted and doesn’t feel his spot is assured.

“That’s good,” Cooper said. “That shows he wants to improve.”

The spring’s first road trip allowed the Astros a brief escape from the Roger Clemens sideshow going on at their camp in Kissimmee. Clemens has been working with the club’s minor leaguers, but his 10-year personal services contract with the club could be affected by an FBI investigation into whether he lied to Congress about using steroids.

Westbrook, penciled in as Cleveland’s No. 3 starter, was scratched from starting the opener because of arm soreness. Jeff Harris, who spent last season at Triple-A Buffalo, started in his place and pitched one scoreless inning.

Westbrook has been bothered by similar arm trouble in past camps, and doesn’t expect it to linger.

Notes

The teams play again Friday in Kissimmee with Cleveland’s Paul Byrd starting against Roy Oswalt. … Westbrook reported no problems after throwing a 45-pitch bullpen session. He wouldn’t pinpoint the location of the soreness. “I usually get it every year,” he said. “It’s probably just a little stronger that it’s been in the past.” … The Astros kept several starters back in Kissimmee, including SS Miguel Tejada, 2B Kaz Matsui, LF Carlos Lee and 1B Lance Berkman. … Turning two: Indians INF Jamey Carroll and his wife, Kim, welcomed twins on Wednesday in Viera, Fla. Mackenzie Joyce and her brother, Cole Patrick, are doing fine.

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