A Terry Pluto column...





CLEVELAND - - The emails are starting to gain momentum, as one fan demanded, "When is it time to demand a managerial change?"

In his three years, Eric Wedge took an Indians team from 68 to 80 to 93 victories - a team that has consistently been in the bottom 25 percent of payroll.

The Indians lost the American League ERA leader (Kevin Millwood) and a reliever who set a team appearance record (Bob Howry), and they didn't add Roger Clemens.

Now that they are 25-26 after 51 games, he should be fired? Would it really change anything to see someone such as Joel Skinner in the dugout? Could a new manager fix what is wrong with the pitching staff without the front office making any moves?

Wedge is a very boring manager, by design. Fans credit the players when the team does well, and blame him when it doesn't. This is not a whitewash of Wedge. His refusal to rest Victor Martinez (.169 in May, no homers) is ridiculous. He would not use backup catcher Kelly Shoppach (hitting .467 at Class AAA Buffalo) even once a week, and that made little sense.

The base running has been a disgrace, and the Indians have earned their place as the American League's worst defensive team. Their fundamentals have been disappearing faster than my hair. Some - not all - of the blame does belong to Wedge and his coaches.

Some in the Tribe front office believe that the problems might be due to the team pressing, I sense some guys are just too comfortable. I bet Wedge does, too. He has come down on the team hard a few times; he just doesn't tell people about it.

If you fault Wedge for his blunders, then do you credit him for the revival of Casey Blake, Aaron Boone and Ben Broussard at the plate? That's why it's so hard to evaluate a manager in his position.

Some fans said Wedge should "yell at the players," like the Detroit Tigers' Jim Leyland did before they went on a winning streak. It helps to scream when your team ERA is the best in the league. If bellowing and spewing threats were the answer, why not hire Tony Soprano?

Before the game, General Manager Mark Shapiro correctly mentioned that the lack of consistent fielding and fundamentals bothered him the most. He correctly named center fielder Grady Sizemore and right fielder Casey Blake as the only players doing an above-average job with the glove.

Shapiro is as frustrated as the fans. You can tell the arrest of reliever Scott Sauerbeck, who was found hiding in the bushes by police after a night on the town, just galls the front office, because it's inexcusable.

Meanwhile, the Indians are 10 games behind the first-place Tigers.

"We're not where we're even good enough to look at the teams ahead of us," Shapiro admitted. He mentioned the need to work harder and concentrate more.

He said C.C. Sabathia is the only consistent starter but said he was not about to "replace four starters." Nor does he want to start "the Buffalo shuttle." How about adding one pitcher? Jeremy Guthrie has a string of 16 scoreless innings and has a 0.53 ERA at Buffalo. He can start or relieve.

The Indians have a team ERA of 4.91, ranking 10th in the league. After 51 games, that pleads for something to happen, especially since the Indians have viable options in the minors.

Guillermo Mota is not the same guy who was a superb setup man for the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years ago. He was traded to the Florida Marlins on July 30, 2004, and had a 4.81 for them for the rest of that season. Last year, it was 4.70. This season, it's 5.64. Jason Johnson (3-4, 5.80) has inspired little confidence.

You don't have to change everybody, but how about somebody? But that person should not be the manager.

Pluto is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal. He can be reached via email at terrypluto2003@yahoo.com.

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