Tribe release, then re-sign Lara

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Juan Lara, critically injured in a November car crash in the Dominican Republic, was released Wednesday by the Cleveland Indians, who then re-signed him to a minor league contract.

The 27-year-old relief pitcher was dropped from the 40-man roster but will be paid his full 2008 salary with medical expenses covered by the organization, said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' assistant general manager.

"We're fully supportive of Juan and want to make sure we do everything we can to help him return to a normal life," Antonetti said. "He's part of our family.

"We wanted to make sure there is no interruption in his care and treatment," Antonetti said.

Lara got hurt when his SUV, stopped at a traffic light, was slammed into by a speeding motorcycle on Nov. 26. The motorcycle's driver and passenger were killed and Lara suffered a fractured spine, severe brain trauma, two broken ribs, a broken arm and punctured lung.

Doctors kept the left-hander in a medically induced coma for weeks before fitting him with a halo vest to support his neck. He was flown from Santo Domingo to Cleveland just before Christmas and had operations on his arm and back.

In recent weeks, Lara has been undergoing daily therapy at Lutheran Medical Center in Cleveland.

Lara recently told Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona in a phone conversation that he hoped to resume his career.

"That's everybody's hope," Antonetti said. "We'll re-evaluate everything at the end of the year, as we do with all players, and go from there."

Lara pitched in one game for the Indians in 2007, spending the rest of the season at Triple-A Buffalo. He went 4-3 with two saves and a 3.88 ERA in 52 appearances for the Bisons.

Lara signed with Cleveland in 1999 and is 28-31 with a 3.94 ERA and 18 saves in his minor league career. In 10 relief appearances for the Indians, he has a 4.26 ERA.

The pitcher was hurt while returning from a winter league game for the Estrellas Orientales in San Pedro de Macoris. He was pinned inside his vehicle by the force of the impact.