Palm Springs, Calif. — Venus would have had a field day trying on arms this year in the spring training camp of the Cleveland Indians. At one point 20 pitchers were wearing Cleveland uniforms, although it is doubtful in Manager Dave Garcia will carry more than 10.
Garcia obviously feels that if the Indians are to improve much on last year's 81-80 record (good for only fifth place in the American League East), pitching will be the determining factor. He is probably right.
The pitching begins with left-hander Rick Waits, whose five years in the majors have all been upbeat (from six wins in '75 to 16 in '79), and ends just about anywhere.
During the off season Indian President Gabe Paul traded with St. Louis for right-hander John Denny and with San Diego for left-hander bob Owchinko.Both are expected to start, although neither won more than eight games last season.
Then there is Wayne Garland, who once won 20 games with Baltimore before arm problems reduced him to a question mark, and 24-year-old Len Barker, who Garcia thinks is on the threshold of something big.
But there is no reason to stop dropping names at this point, not with Dan Spillner and Mike Paxton also wanting to be starters.
Anchoring the bullpen will be left-hander Sid Monge, one of the AL's top relievers last season, and right-hander Victor Cruz. Monge had 19 saves in '79; Cruz, 10. Spillner, who's been in the bullpen before, probably will return there if he doesn't make the starting rotation. That could also be Paxton's ultimate destination.
Ron Hassey, who looks like a consistently good hitter, finished 1979 as the regular catcher, but is being hard pressed by Gary Alexander and Bo Diaz. Cliff Johnson, whose raw home-run power can sometimes produce mental pictures of Boston's Jim Rice, will be the designated hitter.
Except for shortstop, where rookie Jerry Dybzinski is pushing veteran Tom Veryzer, Garcia has an established infield of Andre Thornton at first, Duane Kuiper at second, and Toby Harrah at third.
Thornton didn't hit for average last year, but his 26 homers and 93 runs batted in were tops on the club. Harrah also has power, while Kuiper is a good contact hitter, a consistently tough out right near the front of Cleveland's batting order.
After several years at first base, Mike Hargrove was moved last year to left field, where he did a fine job offensively (.325 for 100 games) and defensively.
Although most clubs concede that Boston's Fred Lynn is the league's best defensive centerfielder, the Indians think Rick Manning is as deserving of acclaim.
When Cleveland gave a multiyear, $1 million contract to free agent Jorge Orta , it was not to play second base (his position with the White Sox), but right field. The Indians feel that they need Orta's bat.
"From what I've seen so far, I feel we've got a chance to win more games than we did last year," Garcia said. "We're definitely better balanced, and if the pitchers we traded for come through, we'd be on an entirely different level."
But mostly the Indians seem to pose more questions than answers, which probably means another year of roughing it in the AL East's second division.