Broussard looks to win starting job

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Ben Broussard wants to make a stronger impression with the Cleveland Indians this season. The first baseman, coming off a disappointing stint with the Indians last season, came to training camp better prepared to battle newcomer Travis Hafner for the starting job.

“We’re pushing each other and I know we are being scrutinized on everything we do,” Broussard said yesterday after hitting his second spring homer in a 4-2 exhibition loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

That is just two homers fewer than he hit in 112 at-bats for the Indians last year when he batted .241 with just nine RBIs after being acquired from Cincinnati.

“It definitely was a down year as far as my numbers, but I learned a lot,” the 26-year-old left-hander said. “In that respect, it was good. I learned a lot about myself, how to come out of bad times.”

Broussard batted .320 in 2001 to win a Double-A batting title but was stuck in the Reds’ system behind all-star Sean Casey. In Cleveland, first base was manned by slugger Jim Thome — so Broussard was asked to learn to play the outfield.

“It was different, that’s for sure,” he said. “It was good because I got some experience at another position. You never know when or where you might be needed, but I am much more comfortable at first base.”

Broussard is much more at ease and in better shape, too. “I didn’t play winter ball for the first time in years, but I concentrated on strength training and eating right,” he said. “I lost about 15 pounds and then put on good weight, muscle. I’m about five pounds under last year, but I feel so much better. There’s no fatigue, physically or mentally.”

Manager Eric Wedge said he has seen the difference. “Ben is stronger and getting his bat through the hitting zone a little quicker,” he said. “I think we’re seeing the player we know he can be.

“He and Travis are similar players and we will be looking to see which one takes command. They are going to get an equal shot.”

Broussard said he feels no pressure and considers the competition as fun.

“We’re both confident in what we can do,” he said. “What makes it so much fun is the opportunity. For the first time, we each have a chance instead of just being kids watching other people play.”

Broussard’s two homers have gone to left field Sunday against Detroit and a long blast over the wall in center Tuesday off Reds left-hander Felix Heredia.

“Hitting the ball to all fields is a good sign for me,” Broussard said. “That means I am doing some things right.

“Last year, I only hit a few homers the other way. A lot of that came from pressing and trying to do too much. I was trying to pull everything, trying to show the Indians who I am.” Broussard said taking a pitch the other way often gets pitchers to throw him inside.

“Then they are playing into my hands and I can turn on that and pull it,” he said. “But the main thing for me is to maintain a consistent swing. Last year, my swing was all over the place so much that the coaches couldn’t quite get a handle on what exactly I needed help with.”

Like Hafner, Broussard said he cannot be concerned with trying to replace Thome, the Indians’ all-time homer leader who signed as a free agent with Philadelphia.

“I was just glad to be around him last year and watch his work ethic,” Broussard said. “It was amazing how much work he put in and it showed me that I had to step it up a notch.

“I’ve always set real high goals because I believe you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it. But I’ve seen that some of the best players in the game are never satisfied.

“I want to establish myself as a big-league player this year. I’ll be happy to do that, but not satisfied.”