CLEVELAND -- Kerry Wood's latest bullpen session lasted about 40 pitches and went well enough that Wood is not expected to throw another simulated game.The Indians' closer feels he's ready for the real thing. Or, at least, the real thing in the Minors. Wood hasn't pitched in a game since early in Spring Training because of a strained muscle in his back, below the right shoulder. He could be sent out on a rehab assignment in the Minors as early as Sunday or Monday, he said Friday. "I'll throw an inning or two [in the Minors]," Wood said. Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron are both at home Sunday and Monday, so those are possible destinations for Wood.
Tribe activates Ambriz; Smith sent to Triple-A
CLEVELAND -- Back in December, the Indians took a chance on Hector Ambriz when they swiped him from the D-backs in the Rule 5 Draft.Now, the Tribe will get a look at Ambriz at the Major League level. Ambriz was activated off the 15-day disabled list Friday and placed in the Indians' bullpen. He took the 25-man roster spot of right-hander Joe Smith, who was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime," a beaming Ambriz said. "Just give me the ball, and let me go out and attack these hitters." The 25-year-old Ambriz was robbed of the opportunity to try out for the Opening Day roster when he suffered right elbow tendinitis in Spring Training camp. He began a rehab assignment at Columbus earlier this month and made seven appearances, posting a 1.13 ERA. He allowed just a run on nine hits with a walk, and he struck out 15 batters in just eight innings. Actually, the injury might have been a blessing in disguise, as the rehab assignment allowed Ambriz to get a longer look than he might have in Cactus League play. "I was just trying to get Strike 1," Ambriz said. "That's what [Triple-A pitching coach] Charles Nagy preached, and that's what they preach up here." Ambriz throws a power fastball, slider and curve. Manager Manny Acta expects to use him in middle relief and plans to give him a couple "clean" innings initially as he gets his feet wet. This will be Ambriz's first shot in the big leagues. He was originally a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in the 2006 Draft for the D-backs. The Indians took him with the fifth pick of the Rule 5 Draft. He was their first Rule 5 pick that wasn't immediately traded elsewhere in 15 years. He must stick with the Tribe for the rest of the season, or else be offered back to the D-backs for $25,000.
Smith sent to Triple-A to work on sinker
CLEVELAND -- Manager Manny Acta made it clear that Monday's transaction, in which Hector Ambriz was activated to the bullpen and Joe Smith was demoted to Columbus, was more about getting a look at Ambriz and less about correcting Smith.But that's not to say Smith didn't have areas for improvement. He had an inconsistent spring camp, and that led to a disappointing first month of the 2010 season. Smith made nine appearances, posting an 0-1 record and 7.71 ERA. Over seven innings, he allowed six runs on seven hits with six walks and five strikeouts. While the side-armer was surprisingly effective against left-handers (1-for-8), right-handers hit .333 (6-for-18) off him. Also alarming was his groundball-to-flyball ratio of 0.40. "We told Joe to go down, get that sinker going and get ground balls," Acta said "He's a ground-ball pitcher, and he needs to get ground balls. We felt he could work through this up here. But sometimes the game works against you when you have [Minor League] options. The main thing with this move is Hector." The 26-year-old Smith was acquired from the Mets before the 2009 season. He was a valuable arm in setup situations for New York, but his 2009 season here was plagued by injuries. When he did pitch last season, he was generally effective, posting a 3.44 ERA in 37 games.
Nielsen rep: 'Most hated' study misreported
CLEVELAND -- It appears reports about the level of hate associated with the Cleveland Indians were greatly exaggerated.If the notion of the Indians being more hated nationally than the Yankees seemed a bit surprising, it's with good reason. A representative of the Nielsen Company, which provided "sentiment scale" data to the Wall Street Journal, told the New York Daily News that its findings were misinterpreted and misreported. The Wall Street Journal's website, WSJ.com, reported Wednesday that the Indians were the most hated team in baseball, with the Yankees ranked fifth. Though the Tribe has certainly upset a good number of fans with the disappointments of the last two seasons and the trading of consecutive Cy Young Award winners, the Tribe's ranking seemed a bit suspicious. The same goes for the Yankees' ranking, as it went against the notion that there are two types of baseball fans -- Yankee fans, and fans who despise the Yanks. Aaron Lewis, a communications director for Nielsen, told the Daily News that the study sought out to determine the "correlation between positive and negative feelings generated by each team, based on their starts to this season." A computer-generated program searched for positive and negative keywords in online forums and message boards to determine sentiments. The index ranged from -5 to 5, and no team registered a negative score. The Yankees did, in fact, have the lowest score, a 1.8. Where the Indians' rankings were misinterpreted was in the fact that no team registered a higher percentage of negative comments. Eight percent of the comments analyzed regarding the Indians were negative. At least 80 percent of every team's comments registered as neutral or mixed.
Kearns keeping eye on Kentucky Derby
CLEVELAND -- As a Lexington, Ky., native, Austin Kearns naturally has some inside connections when it comes to making Kentucky Derby predictions. When pressed for a prediction Friday, Kearns looked at his cell phone and said, "I'm waiting for that right now."Kearns, who is off to a surprisingly strong start and getting regular time in left field for the Indians, said he has "friends of friends" who are usually pretty good at guessing the Derby winner. "I've heard people who think it's going to be wide open, because the favorite [Eskendereya] got scratched," he said. "Another person I talked to really likes the new favorite [Lookin at Lucky]." While Kentucky is in his blood and remains his residence, Kearns has never been to Churchill Downs. He has frequented the Keeneland track, which is in his hometown. "[The Derby] is more of an event now," he said. "It's a celebrity circus show. I'm not all that big on getting dressed up. I'd probably try to find my way to the infield and get in with that crowd." Kearns, batting .383 with a 1.071 OPS in 13 games, didn't seem to be much of a fan of the Derby's signature drink, the mint julep. "It's one of those things people drink because they have to," he said. "You've got to stick with what you like."
Indians first baseman Russell Branyan was out of Friday's lineup, despite a right-hander (Kevin Slowey) on the mound for the Twins. "We had a long flight [from Anaheim], and [Branyan's] a guy with a balky back," Manny Acta explained. "We try to protect him." ... The Indians' flight from Anaheim landed around 4 a.m. ET Thursday. ... Right-hander Anthony Reyes, recovering from Tommy John surgery last June, has begun throwing off a mound in Goodyear, Ariz. Reyes throws bullpen sessions twice a week, using only his fastball. He will begin throwing breaking balls in the coming weeks and is eyeing a midseason return to the Tribe. ... The Indians' games Saturday and Monday will be broadcast on WMMS 100.7 FM because of a conflict with the Cavaliers' playoff schedule on WTAM 1100.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.