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Reds Deal Burba To A.L. Champs

The Cincinnati Reds slashed their payroll again Monday by sending Dave Burba their opening day starter to the Cleveland Indians for a promising minor leaguer.

Burba, 31, was considered the top starter in the rotation, which is left with unproven veterans and second-year pitcher Brett Tomko.

Cleveland gave up first baseman Sean Casey, one of its top hitting prospects, in order to fill the biggest hole in its lineup.

The Indians’ pitching staff got hit hard during spring training and became the biggest hurdle to successfully defending their American League championship.

The timing of the trade was stunning. Burba had been looking forward to his first opening day start today against the San Diego Padres.

Following an afternoon workout, Reds general manager Jim Bowden made the trade to reduce the club’s payroll, now down to $21.8 million, fourth-smallest in the major leagues. Burba has a base salary of $2.8 million this season and $3.2 million next year.

“We shopped everyone we had to get the best deal we could,” Bowden said. “Obviously, for this year, this is going to hurt us. It’s tough to lose your opening day starter at this point. But we can’t lose our vision of where we want to go.”

Burba was the only one left from the five-man rotation that started last season. The others either left as free agents or were traded to save money.

Just as they added a healthy starting pitcher, the Cleveland Indians got some bad news about Dwight Gooden.

Gooden, expected to be Cleveland’s fourth starter, has tightness in his right shoulder that concerns general manager John Hart and landed Gooden on the 15-day disabled list.

“Doc’s had a little bit of tenderness in his shoulder that’s been an ongoing concern somewhat for us,” Hart said. “Obviously, Doc’s been able to pitch through it. It just underscores the lack of depth that we have within the rotation.”

Gooden had a minor league start in Winter Haven, Fla., on Monday, but came off the field after 29 pitches and was placed on the DL.

Brewers release McDonald

The Milwaukee Brewers released pitcher Ben McDonald and added former A.L. Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin to their 25-man roster.

Also, the Brewers placed outfielder Darrin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right calf and purchased the contract of minor-league outfielder Greg Martinez.

Mo ready to go

Unable to come to a contract extension agreement before today’s season opener, Mo Vaughn is unsure whether this season will be his last with the Red Sox.

What he does know, however, is that he’s going to make the most of the 1998 season.

Whether motivated to prove a point or simply showing the result of better conditioning, Vaughn enjoyed a colossal spring, hitting .484 with 10 homers and 24 RBI in 20 games.

“This is only a little excerpt of what’s going to happen,” said a smiling Vaughn. “If this is my last year here, it’s going to be a good one.”

Hernandez now Marlins ace

Livan Hernandez’s life has transformed at dizzying speed: Cuban defector to rookie to World Series MVP to staff ace.

Florida’s 23-year-old right-hander begins his first full year in the major leagues today in the Marlins’ season opener against Chicago.

He started 9-0 last season, wound up 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA, then became MVP of both the league championship series - striking out a record 15 in the finale against Atlanta - and the World Series victory over Cleveland.

Now, following owner H. Wayne Huizenga’s salary purge, he’s Florida’s senior starter.

Caruso beats out Gil

The Chicago White Sox designated shortstop Benji Gil, second baseman Sergio Nunez and pitcher Bryan Ward for assignment.

The White Sox also purchased the contracts of shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielders Lou Frazier and Ruben Sierra from Calgary of the Pacific Coast League.

Caruso, 20, who played at Class A last season, will start at shortstop for Chicago, making Gil expendable.