TUCSON — The Cleveland Indians knew they had reeled in a big catch when they drafted left-hander Greg Swindell last June.
But nobody knew exactly how big until the fireballing Swindell was brought to the major leagues after just three starts with Waterloo of the Class A Midwest League.
Swindell arrived in Cleveland and immediately impressed his teammates with his beefiness.
"He was pretty puffy," reliever Ernie Camacho said. "Some of the guys said he was like Jell-O. But that was just locker room jokes. What he did on the mound was more important."
Swindell, 22, was rumored to have anywhere from 240 to 260 pounds on his 6-3 frame. Several anonymous Indians player dubbed him "The Flounder."
"I was pretty steamed about it," said Swindell, a native of Fort Worth who went 43-8 at the University of Texas. "I mean, I'm just built this way.
"But during the winter, I did step up my exercise program and I'm down to about 225 or so now. I toned up a lot. But I'm still pretty big. At least big-looking. I like being known as 'Flounder' now."
The Indians' front office didn't seem particularly concerned with Swindell's weight. He had gone 2-1 with a 1.00 earned-run average in three games at Waterloo, striking out 25 and walking three in 18 innings.
On Aug. 18, he was promoted to Waterbury of the Eastern League, but never got to pitch there. Three days later, Cleveland purchased his contract.
Swindell's major league debut on Aug. 21 was a disaster. He pitched 3 innings against Boston and was the loser in a 24-5 game.
"Ouch. it still hurts to think about that," he said. "What a way to break in.
"Actually, it might have been good for me because it made me very humble. I had had success since high school, and I went in pretty confident and boom! The Red Sox rocked me."
But Swindell soon found success with his fastball. He finished the season with a 5-2 record and a 4.23 ERA in nine starts, striking out 46 in 61 innings.
"I think Greg'll get to the point where he'll average a strikeout or better per inning," Cleveland Manager Pat Corrales said. "He's also got off-speed and breaking pitches, and his progress will be helped by (veteran catcher) Rick Dempsey."
Corrales plans to use Swindell in between knuckleballers Tom Candiotti and Phil Niekro, hoping the extremes of pitching styles will keep opponents off balance.
Swindell has been erratic in his first spring training with the Indians, but he says his 0-1 record and 7.88 ERA in eight innings over three games are hardly indicative of his efforts.