Baez will close this season, next season for Tribe

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are sending Danys Baez back to the
bullpen after less than a year in the starting rotation.

Baez will take over the closer role for the remainder of the
season and next season with Bob Wickman undergoing reconstructive
surgery on his right elbow.

''As an organization, we feel he's going to be a top-notch
closer,'' Indians manager Joel Skinner said.

Baez, who will be 25 next month, was made a starter this season
after spending his rookie year in the bullpen.

As a starter, he was 9-10 with a 4.44 ERA, tops among starters
still with the team since opening day. He had 121 strikeouts, 75
walks and opponents were hitting .259 off him.

He said he's not surprised about the move because he heard
people talk about it every time he pitched for the last couple

''It's a hard decision for me, but if they need somebody to be
the closer now, and if they need me there, I'll go anywhere,'' Baez

He said he would be upset if the Indians decided to throw him
back into the starting rotation after next season, but was told
that wouldn't happen.

''They think this is my future,'' he said.

Baez excelled in the bullpen in 43 appearances in 2001. He was
5-3 with a 2.50 ERA, striking out 52 and allowing 34 hits in 50

Skinner said the closer role is perfect for Baez's hard fastball
and split-finger.

''He's a guy that goes after hitters. ... That's his
mentality,'' Skinner said. ''We feel he's got the ability to be a
true bona fide closer.''

Baez defected from Cuba in 1999 and signed a four-year, $14.5
million contract with the Indians, who have a club option for 2004.

Skinner said Baez won't pitch back-to-back nights in the bullpen
until next season because he's already thrown 154 innings.

He said Mark Wohlers, who had been acting as closer since
Wickman's injury last month, did not have a problem with the move.

Baez started Saturday's game against Seattle and threw 5 2/3
hitless innings before giving up three runs. He struck out five of
the first six batters he faced, including Ichiro Suzuki, who went
down looking on three pitches.

Baez will not be available to pitch out of the bullpen until
Wednesday night. Skinner did not say who would replace Baez in the