Rodriguez, Indians blank Cincinnati, 2-0

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

SARASOTA, Fla. - Ricardo Rodriguez allowed four hits in six innings, and David Riske struck out the side in the ninth as the Cleveland Indians beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 Sunday.

Manager Eric Wedge told Riske and infielder Casey Blake before the game that they'd made the club. Blake will play third base while Ricky Gutierrez recovers from offseason neck surgery.

Blake played first base on Sunday and went 0-for-3, lowering his average from .512 to .477.

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Riske made 51 relief appearances for the Indians last season. He earned a setup job with an overpowering performance this spring, striking out 19 of the 45 batters he has faced.

''I love pitching at the end of games,'' Riske said. ''That's just how I am.''

Riske has strengthened his back, which caused problems during 2001, and refined a split-finger fastball.

''That's going to make a huge difference,'' Riske said. ''Having a second pitch helps tremendously.''

Riske finished a combined five-hitter. Shane Spencer had a solo homer in the second inning off Ryan Dempster, and Karim Garcia singled home a run in the third.

Rodriguez gave up three walks in six innings, striking out five. Wedge has given him the No. 2 spot in the rotation, behind C.C. Sabathia, and watched the 24-year-old pitcher with seven major league starts pitch up to expectations. Rodriguez has had only one bad outing all spring.

''He's extremely confident and he does a good job of knowing what he wants to do with each pitch,'' Wedge said. ''He's beyond his age and experience in the way he handles himself on the mound.''

Blake, 29, signed a minor league contract as a free agent from Minnesota last December. Gutierrez is still limited by the neck - he began playing third bas last week - and Blake took advantage of the opportunity to win the job for now.

''He did everything he needed to do to be part of this ballclub,'' Wedge said.

Blake was still overwhelmed by the good news after the game.

''When you're in my situation, that's what you want to hear - the call into the office that you've been waiting for,'' Blake said. ''That's what I was hoping for, and I knew I'd put myself in that situation. I was very excited. I tried to stay calm, but I wanted to smile. This is the first time I've broken camp with anybody.''

Gutierrez will most likely remain in Florida on an extended spring training.

assignment until he's back in everyday playing shape.

''I'll talk to Ricky and try to map things out,'' Wedge said. ''The realistic thing is he's probably going to stay down here.''

Notes: Indians 1B Travis Hafner missed his second game with a sprained wrist. Wedge expects him to resume batting practice in a day or two. … The Reds once again decided to use the DH, even though the game was in a National League park. Manager Bob Boone wanted Adam Dunn to bat without playing the outfield. Dunn has shin splints. … SS Barry Larkin, who was hit on the elbow by a pitch on Thursday, returned to the lineup and went 2-for-2 with a walk.