WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - With every grounder and line drive hit his way, Ryan Garko feels more comfortable at first base.
The Cleveland Indians aren't so relaxed with him there just yet.
Garko, a converted catcher trying to win a spot on Cleveland's opening-day roster as a first baseman, drove in two runs but had one fielding error in the Indians' 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Garko has spent most of spring training on the practice fields adjacent to Chain of Lakes Park. It's back on those minor league diamonds, under the watchful eye of coaches Robby Thompson and Luis Isaac, where Garko has been taking extra fielding and working on his footwork around the bag.
"I'm getting better," Garko said, "and I'm only going to improve."
The Indians have been pleased with Garko's progress. However, they want to be sure he can handle being a regular infielder before deciding to keep him.
They know Garko can hit. After being called up from Triple-A Buffalo last August, he batted.292 with 45 RBIs in 50 games.
"They know what I can do and I think they have a pretty good idea of the package they are getting," Garko said. "Even at the start of last year I knew in my heart that I could be in the big leagues and produce. I've been talking to guys all spring, telling them, 'We're not prospects anymore. We need to play. This is it. It's an important time in your career.'"
Indians manager Eric Wedge would love for Garko to play well enough that he makes it impossible for them not to keep him.
"He has to keep putting in the time at first and he'll get better," Wedge said. "He needs to be able to make the plays and keep improving. He improved so much last spring and last year. We just need to see him do that again."
Garko gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI single off Derek Lowe. But in the top of the second, he bobbled a slow grounder hit by Marlon Anderson. By the time he recovered to get it, Garko's soft toss to pitcher C.C. Sabathia covering the bag was too late.
"I did everything right," Garko said. "I got my feet in the right spot, but I kind of peaked at the runner and still almost got him. You can only get that in a game situation. On the balls that are hit hard, I don't have any problem. On the balls that are hit soft, those are the ones where I have time. I start to think about what I'm doing."
Sabathia pitched five scoreless innings and Trevor Crowe drove in two runs for the Indians.
Lowe, the Dodgers' opening-day starter, allowed four runs - one earned - and five hits in 4 1-3 innings. The right-hander didn't get much help from his infield as shortstop Chin-Lung Hu and third baseman Andy LaRoche had throwing errors that led to three runs.
"I was pretty pleased with the way it went," Lowe said. "I was able to throw strikes to both sides of the plate."
Notes: Between innings, fans lined up to get an autograph from Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who sat behind home plate.... Wedge said LHP Cliff Lee, who will begin the season on the disabled list with an abdominal strain, played catch pain-free on Saturday. "That's a good first step," Wedge said.... Wilson Valdez had two hits for the Dodgers.