CLEVELAND -- Sitting at his locker inside the Indians' clubhouse on Sunday morning, Alex White deferred to Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff when asked about his hand injury.
That often signals the arrival of bad news.
Sure enough, Soloff indicated that White -- arguably Cleveland's top pitching prospect -- is expected to miss two to three months with a sprained ligament in his right middle finger. The 22-year-old starter will not even be permitted to pick up a baseball for a minimum of three weeks.
"We want to be as conservative as possible in Alex's case," Soloff said.
White injured the finger while firing off an 86-mph slider two pitches into the third inning in Friday's 5-4 victory over the Reds. On Saturday, the young pitcher underwent an MRI exam and had his finger examined in Cleveland by renowned hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham.
The Indians placed White on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday.
Soloff said the injury deals with a finger pulley in the middle of the digit that holds a tendon to the bone. The Tribe's head trainer noted that it is an issue that can arise for some pitchers and rock climbers. In White's case, Soloff believes it was bound to happen at some point.
"If it didn't happen on the slider," Soloff said, "I think it was still going to happen."
Indians fans may recall Cleveland pitching prospect Adam Miller -- a first-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft -- dealing with a similar issue. Miller missed the 2009-10 seasons due to a middle finger injury, which required four surgeries. He is now a reliever for Class A Kinston.
Soloff said White's injury is not as severe as the one Miller dealt with.
"In Miller's case, there were other complicating factors," Soloff said. "[There was] a tendon issue and, if you remember, Adam also had a fissure as well that was a cause for concern for infection.
"The two cases are similar in the sense that they both involve a long finger, but after that there don't appear to be any similarities."
Unlike Miller, White is not expected to require surgery.
White, who was Cleveland's top pick in the '09 Draft, remained in Friday's game and faced six more Cincinnati hitters before exiting. Soloff said the pitcher was allowed to remain in the game after passing the on-field examination.
"You examine him and it's a clean examination," Soloff said. "He tells you, 'I want a couple warmup pitches here,' and then he throws and says, 'I'm fine. I'm good to go.' It speaks to Alex's toughness and his competiveness and we're looking to have him back out there as soon as possible.
"He was adamant about his ability to stay in the game and compete. It's clear that on that pitch is when he injured that ligament."
Perez needs to be crafty with lefty hitters
CLEVELAND -- Chris Perez knows that his troubles against left-handed hitters this season begins and ends with him. The Indians closer had a similar issue early on last season and the solution was simple.
The problem stems from where the catcher is set up behind the plate.
"It's not their fault," Perez said on Sunday. "I haven't told them to do it yet."
Last season, Perez realized that his fastball would often tail off the plate when the catcher was set up over the outside corner. When the catcher would set up down the middle, the pitcher's heater would break over the corner for a strike -- one hitters are hard-pressed to handle.
"I just need to start picking up my sights differently," Perez said. "I need the catcher to start setting up just down the middle, so when I come through and I pick up my sight, he's down the middle and I can throw it to him and let the movement take it to the corner."
In Saturday's 2-1 win over the Reds, the issue was on full display. The right-hander walked the left-handed-hitting Joey Votto -- the reigning National League Most Valuable Player -- with one out and later walked lefty-swinging Jay Bruce with two outs. Perez said those two free passes were more about the situation.
"Sometimes you live to fight another day by walking a power hitter in a one-run game," Perez said. "In that situation, we had a chance to win that series right there. It was a big game and a one-run lead with the MVP coming up and their team leader in homers coming up right after that.
"Once I fell behind, I wasn't going to give in to give them a cookie so they could tie the game up, that's for sure. So I took my chances."
It worked out. Sandwiched between the walks was a double-play groundout off the bat of Brandon Phillips. Then, with two outs, Perez struck out Scott Rolen to seal the win and his 12th save of the year. Still, the two walks were part of a larger problem.
Entering Sunday, Perez had issued 12 walks in his 19 innings pitched for Cleveland. Of those free passes, 10 came within the 44 meetings with left-handed hitters. By comparison, Perez had walked two right-handed batters in 34 meetings.
"He's struggling a little bit right to throw strikes to left-handed hitters," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "But he's pretty tough. He stays out there and works himself out of trouble. He's going to get into a groove again where he's going to be able to dot that fastball to lefties."
Perez echoed that sentiment.
"I'm not worried about it yet," Perez said. "It hasn't come back to bite me yet in the games -- knock on wood. But it is something I want to change and I'm confident I can."
Acta speaks volumes on Buck's approach
CLEVELAND -- After watching Travis Buck's first two at-bats result in weakly-hit outs on Saturday, Indians manager Manny Acta had seen enough. Acta called Buck over in the dugout and gave him a quick briefing on his approach at the plate.
The pep talk on pitch selection worked wonders.
In the seventh inning, Buck drilled the first pitch he received from Cincinnati's Homer Bailey over the right-center-field wall for a two-run homer, providing the key blow in a 2-1 win for the Indians. Buck said Acta's message was clear and it helped in that third trip to the batter's box.
"It's more of picking your spots," Buck explained. "You've got to be able to swing at pitches where you think you feel you can do some damage, rather than trying to get a little base hit or just trying to basically put it in play. I never really had a manager come to me like that before.
"It shows how much he really believes in me. It made me realize that we get three strikes before we're out. It's OK to take a pitch middle away if that's not one you can do damage on.
"We give a lot of pitchers credit and, granted, there are so many guys that hit their spots. But sometimes they're going to leave a pitch out over the plate."
Over Buck's past seven games, dating back to April 16 -- the outfielder was at Triple-A Columbus from April 19-May 16 -- all he has done is hit at a .391 (9-for-23) clip, entering Sunday. Part of the success has been a switch to a bat with a thinner barrel. Buck is hoping the revamped approach will help, too.
"Everybody knows what I can do," Buck said. "I've basically been a gap-to-gap guy hitting it the other way the whole time. But I'm 6-foot-2, 230-pounds. I need to be able to pick spots [to drive the ball] and still have the confidence where I can hit with two strikes and still get a hit."
Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said on Sunday that it is "not a foregone conclusion" that center fielder Grady Sizemore will be ready to be activated from the 15-day disabled list when he becomes eligible on Friday. Sizemore (right knee) will increase his baseball activities over the next three days, adding a variety of sprint and agility drills to the mix. He will be re-evaluated later in the week.
Entering Sunday, Indians right-fielder Shin-Soo Choo (hitting .242 on the year) was riding an eight-game hitting streak. Still, Choo said he is not entirely comfortable yet at the plate. "Eight-game hitting streak, but I don't feel good," Choo said. "I'm thinking too much up there. That makes it worse. Everybody knows that. Every player goes through the same problem. Talking about it is easy. I know it's a problem."
The Indians have noted that designated hitter Travis Hafner (right oblique), who is on the 15-day disabled list, will likely be sidelined for three to four weeks. On Sunday, Soloff added that the club is confident the issue will not last beyond that time frame. "We're hoping that four weeks is reasonable," Soloff said.
Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin has turned in a quality start in each of his nine starts this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest streak to begin a campaign for an Indians pitcher since the earned run became an official stat in 1913.