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Indians pull Sabathia from Team USA

By John Manuel

C.C. Sabathia
Photo: Larry Goren

The Cleveland Indians made Team USA manager Tom Lasorda's decision about his Olympic rotation a little easier Tuesday when they pulled lefthander C.C. Sabathia off the Olympic Team.

Published reports out of Ohio quoted Indians assistant general manager Mark Shapiro saying Sabathia was returning because Team USA planned to use him out of the bullpen. Because the Indians agreed to let Sabathia go to Australia on the conditions that he start and work only on strict pitch counts, they decided to have him return, rather than relieve.

"C.C. ended up being the fourth starter," Shapiro said. "That means he also would be used in the bullpen."

One of Team USA's starters clearly will be Brewers righthander Ben Sheets. Other pitchers who started in exhibition play included righthanders Roy Oswalt (Astros) and Jon Rauch (White Sox). Young lefthanders Chris George (Royals) and Bobby Seay (Devil Rays) and veteran lefty Rick Krivda (Orioles) now figure into the fourth starter/swing reliever role.

Team USA's schedule is such that the team really needs only three top starters. Team USA plays Japan on Sunday in its opener, and will have Sheets ready to go in all likelihood. He pitched five innings against Korea on Monday, then would take his normal turn against Japan on the 17th and again against Cuba on Sept. 23. Sheets would then be ready to go on three days rest in the gold medal game if needed. Cuba and Japan played for the gold medal in 1996, with Cuba winning, and both clubs are again seen as strong gold-medal contenders.

In its Sept. 18 game against South Africa, the tournament's weakest team, Team USA is likely to use a veteran such as Krivda or righthander Ryan Franklin (Mariners). Sept. 19 against the Netherlands, though, Team USA will likely throw Oswalt or Rauch. The Dutch beat Rauch on Sunday, scoring four runs in five innings against the 6-foot-11 righty in a 4-3 win.

Team USA's other most difficult games in the round-robin include Sept. 20 against South Korea and Sept. 24 against Australia. The top four teams make the medal round, which begins Sept. 26, with the gold medal game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. local time on Sept. 27 (or 4:30 a.m. ET).

Sabathia, a 1998 first-round pick, returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area for a couple of days, then is scheduled to report to instructional league in Florida. Shapiro said he was one of four or five pitchers the Indians were considering as a spot starter during next week's series at Boston, when the two teams will play five games in three days.

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