GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is never too early to start forming a contingency plan. That is why Indians manager Manny Acta at least entertained the idea of needing a temporary replacement for injured closer Chris Perez.
Cleveland announced on Sunday that Perez is sidelined for 4-6 weeks with a strained left oblique, but the team is optimistic that he will be recovered in time for Opening Day. In the event that Perez's injury lingers longer than expected, Acta said Vinnie Pestano would fill in as the club's closer.
"Vinnie will close the games if -- if -- Chris is not ready," Acta said. "He's the natural guy to go to. But you know what? We have a very good bullpen -- a deep bullpen -- and we have added at least three guys to our camp that have closed games in the past.
"That doesn't mean that they're going to be competing for that role, but those guys can fill into our bullpen and do a good job for us."
The three pitchers Acta referred to are right-handers Chris Ray, Jeremy Accardo and Dan Wheeler, who have all closed out games in the Major Leagues during their respective careers. Ray saved 49 games for the Orioles from 2006-07, Accardo notched 30 saved in '07 with the Blue Jays and Wheeler served as a closer at times during his tenures with the Astros and Rays.
Each of those three pitchers, however, are in camp as non-roster invitees, after inking Minor League contracts with Cleveland over the winter.
Acta made it clear that those pitchers have to earn their way onto the Opening Day roster before anyone can even consider them potential late-inning alternatives. Including Perez, there are five jobs accounted for in the Tribe's bullpen, and two spots available with a bevy of relievers in the mix.
Behind Perez, the projected bullpen currently includes Pestano, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez. The right-handed Pestano posted a 2.32 ERA in 67 games during an impressive rookie campaign in 2011. Over 62 innings for the Indians, Pestano struck out 84 while limiting hitters to a .184 average.
"We feel that with the Chris situation happening this early," Acta said, "and having that deep bullpen that we have, we can manage through it."
Alumni makes presence felt at Indians' camp
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians believe that turning to the past can help strengthen the team's immediate future.
Carlos Baerga joined the team on Sunday at its Arizona training complex as a guest instructor, adding another former Tribe All-Star to the coaching fold. Kenny Lofton is also on hand with Cleveland to provide instruction during the spring.
"It's great," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "These guys, they were a big part of this franchise, and they continue to be. These are guys that our players appreciate having them around. They have so much to offer. We do have a great coaching staff, but you can never have enough when it comes to knowledge."
One could mistake this year's camp for a 1995 class reunion.
Besides Baerga and Lofton, other members of the 100-win '95 Indians team on hand include former manager Mike Hargrove (now an advisor to the ballclub) and catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. (the Tribe's bench coach). For Baerga, who is working as a guest coach for the first time, it has already been a memorable experience.
"I'm really happy," Baerga said with a wide smile. "I'm really happy that I'm here, and back on the field and putting on the uniform. I just talked to my wife, and I said, 'Wow, this is special.' I'm very happy.
"I can help a lot of young players for them to stay focused on the game -- and forget about the other things outside the game that will take you away from what you have."
Acta noted that the timing of their arrival was strategic. In the week before spring games begin, there is more time to dedicate to individual instruction. Baerga will work with the infielders, Lofton will focus on outfield and baserunning techniques, and Hargrove will spend time with the first basemen.
There could also be a surprise guest coming.
"We're trying to bring Albert, too," Baerga said. "We want to bring Albert Belle back to Cleveland. We need to bring him down. I don't know what we're going to do. Maybe in a cage or something. It's going to be crazy. Albert was a special player."
Duo leads competition for last spots in 'pen
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Frank Herrmann fired off two-seam fastballs and splitters, while hitters took turns standing in the box with a bat on their shoulders. The Indians' reliever would like to think it was due to intimidation, but he knows it was intentional.
During Sunday's live batting practice, hitters were instructed to only track pitches -- rather than begin swinging.
"I didn't give up any hits today," Herrmann quipped after his mound session. "It's always a good day when you don't give up any hits."
With Spring Training under way, so is the competition for the last two spots in Cleveland's bullpen. There are are host of arms vying for the available jobs, but only two realistic candidates -- Herrmann and lefty Nick Hagadone -- reside on the team's 40-man roster.
Both relievers worked through live batting practice sessions -- sans any actual batting -- during Sunday's workout, but each came into camp on the opposite side of the experience spectrum. Herrmann has spent parts of the past two seasons in the Tribe's bullpen, while Hagadone only had a nine-game taste of the big leagues in 2011.
"Just being up there for the month that I was," Hagadone said, "it really just helped me get comfortable being in this setting. It just makes me know that I can play at that level. It's nice to have the experience of being around all these guys, so it's not something different going into this camp."
The 26-year-old Hagadone struck out 11 hitters in his 11 innings with the Indians, and posted a 4.09 ERA along the way. Last year in the Minor Leagues, the left-hander had a 2.79 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 22 walks in 71 innings between stints with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.
Other leading bullpen candidates include Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray, Jeremy Accardo and Robinson Tejeda, who are all in camp as non-roster invitees. There could potentially be a third relief job available if closer Chris Perez's left-oblique injury persists longer than the team expects. For now, Perez is still considered an option for Opening Day.
Indians manager Manny Acta said earlier this week that Herrmann had "a bit of a leg up" over the rest of the competition.
Herrmann, 27, is spending this spring focusing on gaining even more comfort with a split-finger fastball that he first learned two winters ago. Last season, the righty went 4-0 with a 5.11 ERA in 40 games, during which he allowed a .231 average against righties and a .353 average against lefties.
Herrmann said the key against left-handed hitters is honing his splitter.
"I felt it was good, at times," Herrmann said, "and then I kind of lost confidence in it or I lost a feel for it, and then I was like, 'I don't know if I really want to throw that.' This year, I feel more comfortable with it. At some point you say to yourself, 'Hey, we've got to sink or swim with this.'
"I feel we're at that point where I really want to start throwing it more and trusting it."
Quote to note
"We're thinking about shutting down camp [on Monday] and taking a three-week vacation. I'm joking, obviously. It's unfortunate." --Indians manager Manny Acta, on already having a couple of injuries early in Spring Training
The Indians have scheduled a pair of intrasquad games before Saturday's Cactus League opener against the Reds. The tentative plan is for the Tribe to play 4 1/2 innings at its complex on Wednesday and 5 1/2 innings on Thursday at Goodyear Ballpark.
The Indians will likely have a handful of extra games this spring to manage the high volume of players in camp. For starters, Cleveland agreed to play a "B" game against the White Sox on March 5 at 12 p.m. ET at the Indians' player development complex in Goodyear, Ariz.
No matter who captures the last two jobs in the Indians' bullpen, Acta would like them to be able to handle multi-inning appearances. He feels it is essential to have at least one or two such relievers on his staff.
Infielder Cord Phelps spent the offseason doing some traveling, including trips to Hawaii and Israel. On the latter trip, he met up with a pair of college buddies who did a 12,000-mile dirt bike journey from South Africa to Jerusalem.