Sunday, March 21, 2004

Relieving is Riske's business

After his success in setup role, right-hander is Indian's fill-in as closer

The Associated Press

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - David Riske is the Cleveland Indians' reluctant closer.

The soft-spoken 27-year-old right-hander has been one of the better setup men in the American League the last three years.

But on Thursday, Riske was asked to begin the season as Cleveland's closer when it was discovered right-hander Bob Wickman would miss at least the first half of the season because of a sprained ligament in his right elbow.

With Riske's contract expiring after this season, a big year could pay off for him. Successful closers are rare in the major leagues and are paid accordingly.

But Riske wasn't all smiles about the promotion.

"Of course I want to be a closer, but I sure didn't want to see Wickie get hurt," Riske said. "I was prepared to be the setup guy all year."

Riske also was asked to close during the final six weeks of the 2003 season when Danys Baez struggled. Riske responded by converting all seven of his save opportunities.

Riske's progress was delayed by back and shoulder surgeries in 2000 and back and hamstring strains in 2002.

A return to health last summer and the addition of a changeup thrown with the same grip and motion as a split-finger fastball resulted in the best season of Riske's career - a 2-2 record and 2.29 ERA in 68 appearances.

He ranked fourth among American League relief pitchers in opponents batting average (.196).

"Whether I'm pitching the seventh inning, the eighth or the ninth, I'll pitch the same to get guys out," Riske said.

ORIOLES: Utility player Mark McLemore will have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, and will be sidelined six to eight weeks.

YANKEES: Mike Mussina was named the team's opening day starter. Manager Joe Torre said Mussina will pitch the first of two games in Tokyo on March 30 against Tampa Bay, and Kevin Brown will start the second.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS: Jeremy Affeldt and the Royals received a major scare in the first inning of Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Mariners. Seattle's Randy Winn lined a shot off Affeldt's body, but Affeldt recovered to throw out Winn.

"It missed my glove and hit me right about the (left) hip," Affeldt said. "I need that fat roll. It got all skin. It didn't get the ribs."

Affeldt threw 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs, one unearned, on four hits. Edgar Martinez homered for the Mariners.

• Kerry Wood pitched six strong innings and hit a home run, and Sammy Sosa also homered to lead a Cubs split squad over the Brewers 10-0.

• Shortstop Khalil Greene homered and drove in four runs to lead the Padres to an 11-8 victory over the Diamondbacks. He leads the team with 14 RBI this spring.

• Rookie Adam LaRoche homered twice to help a Braves split squad beat the Tigers 5-4.

• Larry Walker might have aggravated a sore groin in his return to the Rockies' lineup. Walker, who hadn't played since March 8, went 0-for-2 in a 5-3 loss to an Athletics split squad and said he probably wouldn't play today.

• David Ortiz hit his spring training-leading sixth homer and Kevin Millar and Doug Mirabelli hit their first, lifting the Red Sox to a 9-4 win over the Blue Jays.

• Matt Morris became the first St. Louis pitcher to go five innings this spring in the Cardinals' 4-3 win over the Orioles. Morris, who will start on opening day, gave up two runs in the first inning and shut out Baltimore after that.

• Zach Day struck out seven in five innings, and the Expos hit three home runs in a 9-3 victory over the Marlins.

• Barry Bonds, J.T. Snow, Pedro Feliz and Michael Tucker homered as the Giants beat the Angels 10-8.

• John Van Benschoten and Sean Burnett, the Pirates' top two pitching prospects, limited the Yankees to a run over five innings in Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory. Randall Simon drove in both Pirates runs.

• Houston's Tim Redding threw four shutout innings, extending his scoreless streak this spring to 10, but the Indians beat the Astros 6-3. C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland's 23-year-old ace, gave up a run and five hits in five innings.

• Eric Milton held his former team in check for five innings, leading the Phillies to a 6-1 victory over the Twins. Milton, traded by Minnesota in December, allowed one run and three hits.

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