Strained left oblique shelves Perez
Injury not expected to affect availability for Opening Day
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have lost closer Chris Perez for the time being, but the club is hoping there is still enough time for him to return to the bullpen prior to Opening Day in Cleveland.
The club revealed on Sunday that Perez is sidelined with a strained left oblique, and the pitcher will likely need at least four to six weeks to recover from the injury. That does not necessarily mean that the closer will be unavailable for the April 5 opener against the Blue Jays.
"I wouldn't say that," said Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff, when asked if Perez was doubtful for Opening Day. "We'll have to see how things go and how he responds with his throwing sessions once he gets back on a mound."
It is not clear when Perez will be cleared to resume throwing off a mound, but the Indians are hopeful that he can begin game action before camp breaks at the end of March. Soloff said it helps that the 26-year-old pitcher is a reliever, so he will not need as much time to build up his pitch count before rejoining the bullpen.
"That's definitely a positive," Soloff said.
Perez indicated that he injured his left side on Thursday around pitches 25-30 near the end of a 10-minute bullpen session -- his first mound workout of the spring. At first, Perez thought it was a cramp. The pitcher ended his session early, and the team discovered he had strained his left oblique.
For right-handed pitchers, oblique issues most commonly affect the left side, according to Soloff.
"His body was clearly not ready for the intensity of that bullpen session," Soloff said. "We're hoping to have him in games toward the end of spring. It will be largely based on his responses."
Perez's interpretation of the comment was that he was too aggressive in his first mound workout.
"What he means by that is it was the first day, I was going 100 percent," Perez said. "He probably wanted me to go 75 or 50 percent, but that's not who I am. I get work in throwing 100 percent. I'm not going to go throw a bullpen at 50 percent and miss all my spots, and pretty much just waste a day.
"I was doing what I normally do when I throw a bullpen. I felt a cramp, so I think I was a little dehydrated. It is what it is. I pulled it. I'm physically ready to go. I could play tomorrow if it was Opening Day and this didn't happen. I'm physically ready to go. It wasn't because I came in out of shape or anything.
"I've been the same since I've been here. It's just one of those fluke things, and we have to move past it."
Perez noted that his personal goal is to return to the mound for Cleveland by March 15. In the meantime, he is working through three-hour rehab sessions with the goal of adding in more exercises in the next eight or nine days. From there, Perez would resume a throwing program.
"Opening Day is not out of the question for me," Perez said. "Four to six weeks is on the long side for me of when I want to be back out there. Obviously, I have to listen to my body. Now, it's just go out and bang out my rehab."
Indians manager Manny Acta shared Perez's optimism.
"We feel that there is a legit chance he's going to be ready for the season," Acta said. "The timetable is four to six weeks, and that's what we're going to spend down here. He's a reliever -- a closer, actually. A lot of those guys don't even need that many outings dring Spring Training.
"So if we can get him into enough games at the end of camp, he should be ready for Opening Day. That's the good thing -- that it happened early in camp -- if there is any good thing out of it. It happened early in camp and he's a one-inning guy."
When he does return to the mound, Perez said he might have to take things slower at first.
"Lonnie wants me to learn to kind of take my time out there," Perez said. "It's kind of a process. I'm still kind of young. I'm by no means a veteran in this game. I'm still learning my body and learning what I need to do to get ready for Opening Day."
Perez added that he only needed about six spring outings to be ready for the start of the season a year ago.
Last season, in his first full tour as the Tribe's closer, Perez posted 36 saves in 40 opportunities, and fashioned a 3.32 ERA across 64 games. He was named to the American League All-Star team, and ended the 2011 season ranked fourth in the league in saves.
Behind Perez on the bullpen depth chart are setup men Vinnie Pestano and Tony Sipp, along with Rafael Perez and Joe Smith. The Indians entered Spring Training with the last two relief jobs up for grabs and a bevy of arms in the running for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Frank Herrmann and Nick Hagadone represent options currently on Cleveland's 40-man roster. Some non-roster candidates include Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray, Robinson Tejeda and Hector Ambriz, among others.
Perez joked that the setback might actually be beneficial for him.
"Me personally, I think Spring Training is too long anyways for relievers," Perez quipped. "So maybe this will be a little blessing in disguise. I can come back with eight or nine days left, get my five appearances and be ready to go."