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Monday, March 17
Wedge chooses rookie Phillips over McDonald

Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Indians rookie Brandon Phillips doesn't lack confidence: He wrote "The Franchise'' on a pair of his workout shoes earlier this spring.

Brandon Phillips

Nervy kid, huh?

He also came to Cleveland's spring training camp fully expecting to win a starting job. On Monday, he got one.

Indians manager Eric Wedge named Phillips his everyday second baseman, choosing the 21-year-old over John McDonald, who started 56 games at second last season and expected to be there on opening day.

"Brandon had an outstanding spring,'' Wedge said. "There were certain things that we needed to see from him and we needed to feel comfortable with. We're comfortable with them. Johnny Mac has had a good spring as well, but we feel like Brandon Phillips has earned that job.''

McDonald will be the Indians' utility infielder -- the same role he had last season.

During the winter, Wedge said second base was "Johnny Mac's job to lose.''

It's not so much that the 28-year-old McDonald, who is batting .409 this spring, lost his spot. It's that Phillips and the Indians weren't going to benefit by having him go back to the minors.

The kid's ready.

Phillips, a converted shortstop, was overjoyed when Wedge told him he had made the 25-man roster -- and beaten out McDonald as the starter.

"I just had a big 'ol smile on my face,'' Phillips said, flashing another. "I took a deep breath and was like, 'Wow.' I really worked hard for it. It's lovely, man.''

Phillips, acquired last season from Montreal in a trade for ace Bartolo Colon, said he called his parents after getting the news. His mom, Lue Phillips, couldn't contain herself.

"She was just yelling into the phone,'' he said. "It was real nice.''

Obviously, McDonald would prefer to start. But he understands the Indians' decision, and after playing behind Gold Glovers Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar, McDonald has a keen eye for infield talent.

Phillips, he said, has plenty.

"He has a lot of potential as a player,'' McDonald said. "You see that just from working out with him. He wants to learn and get better. He asks a lot of questions, which is good.''

Not long ago, McDonald was the one asking Vizquel and Alomar for advice. Now it's his turn to mentor Phillips, the Indians' budding star.

"I don't want to call him young because I don't feel old,'' McDonald said. "But he's new. I've been around Robbie and Omar the last couple years and I think I can pass on some of the knowledge I've learned.''

Wedge said Phillips' willingness to listen and learn were important factors in his quick rise. Phillips played in the Arizona Fall League, where he worked on his pivot at second and patience at the plate.

Wedge noticed a major improvement in both areas.

"He really did step up in all areas,'' Wedge said.

After going 2-for-3 with a double in a 9-4 loss Monday to the Boston Red Sox, Phillips is batting .333 (13-for-39) with one homer, six RBI and three steals this spring.

Not eye-popping numbers. But Phillips seems to hit the ball with authority every time up. He might not field as well as McDonald, but he carries a much bigger stick.

And, anyway, it was only a matter of time before Phillips replaced McDonald.

Phillips oozes stardom from cap to cleat.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is a natural. He committed to playing basketball and baseball at Georgia before being drafted by Montreal in 1999.

Before last season, Phillips was rated as the top prospect in the Expos' organization. Then they traded him to Cleveland in the June 27 blockbuster deal for Colon.

Phillips spent 55 games at Triple-A Buffalo before being called up on Sept. 13. In 11 games for Cleveland, he batted .258 with four RBI and made the Indians' defensive play of the year.

At Fenway Park, Phillips made a diving stop on a grounder near second base and, in one motion, rolled over and flipped the ball blindly to McDonald, who stepped on second for the force and came within a whisker of turning a double play.

The defensive gem became an ESPN highlight reel staple, and a favorite of Phillips.

"It made me get the chill bumps,'' Phillips said. "Seeing that, people know what kind of player I am.''

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