Tabler Says He Won't Be Happy as Designated Hitter

Associated Press

Pat Tabler does not want to be identified with the words "designated hitter."

"I'm 29 years old. I'm a good first baseman. Anybody can DH," Tabler said at the Cleveland Indians' spring training camp.

Like it or not, Tabler appears to be the Indians' primary backup for 37-year-old designated hitter Andre Thornton, whose surgically repaired knees won't allow him to play on a daily basis.

Tabler hit .326 in 473 at bats last season, good for fourth in the American League, so Cleveland Manager Pat Corrales wants him in the lineup often.

The first base job, however, will usually belong to Joe Carter, who led the league with 121 runs batted in last year. Carter occasionally will substitute for left fielder Mel Hall, a left-handed hitter, when the opponent uses a left-handed pitcher.

Tabler, however, won't be satisfied if he's in the lineup only against left-handed pitchers.

"If I only play against lefties, maybe two times out of every five days, I'll be unhappy," Tabler said. "If I'm in there three or four days out of five, you won't hear me complaining."

An occasional turn as designated hitter won't bother Tabler, but he believes his value as a player would be diminished if he began to be perceived only as a DH.

"I don't think it's fair to say, 'When Andy doesn't play, Tabby's the DH,' " Tabler said. "I hope they understand that. I can field. Ask anybody who matters and they'll tell you I can play first base.

"DH is a day off. Everybody can DH. I don't want to be the starting DH. Andy should be the DH, and everybody else is his backup," he said. "Mel's in competition with Andy. Joe's in competition with Andy. The whole team's in competition with Andy for the DH job."

Thornton and Tabler offer different skills at the plate, because Thornton possesses power while Tabler is a better contact hitter. Both have proved they can hit with men in scoring position.

Thornton hit .229 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs in 401 at bats last season. Tabler had six homers and 48 RBIs in his 473 at bats.

Corrales says Thornton will be the DH for the Indians' regular-season opener at Toronto on April 6, but he's making no commitment beyond that.

"If I have to use both of them (Tabler and Thornton), I think I can get a lot of production out of both of them," Corrales said.

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