GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is not only the scenery that is much different for Thomas Neal this spring. The young outfielder is taking part in his first Spring Training with the Indians, but he is also feeling better than he has in two seasons.
"Coming in," Neal said, "I feel amazing."
The Indians are hoping that means Neal is poised to return to the form he showed a couple of years ago while playing in the Giants' farm system. Cleveland acquired the outfielder on July 30 last season in the trade that sent veteran infielder Orlando Cabrera to San Francisco.
When Neal joined the Tribe's farm system, he was dealing with one of the four stints on the disabled list that did a number on his showing last season. Neal showed solid power potential in previous Minor League seasons as a right-handed hitter, but that was sapped last year in light of shoulder, hand and foot woes.
"I'm feeling good now," Neal said. "It's very exciting, especially because I came here and worked with the training staff. They're unbelievable. I came here for a month after the season and when I left here I felt better than I had all of last year."
Neal, 24, sat out with a right shoulder injury in May and the same problem flared again in August. He also dealt with a left hand contusion and a left foot injury at other points in the season. Along the way, Neal hit .289 with only two homers and 26 RBIs in 70 games between Triple-A Fresno (Giants) and Triple-A Columbus (Indians).
Between stints with Class A San Jose and Double-A Richmond in the 2009-10 seasons, Neal hit .313 with 34 homers, 81 doubles and 159 RBIs across 265 games. In 2009, while with San Jose, the outfielder posted a 1.010 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Neal -- likely ticketed for Columbus again -- is hoping to regain that form this season.
"I ended up landing in a wonderful situation," Neal said.
Slowey's competitive nature flows after debut
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Kevin Slowey entered Spring Training with the belief that he was over the injury woes that plagued him last season, but the Indians starter was eager to test out that confidence in a game situation.
Slowey made his spring debut for his new ballclub on Tuesday, and he answered a couple questions in the process. With two clean innings, he showed he is ready to compete for the fifth-starter's job and that he is indeed healthy.
"Until you get out there and compete, you're never certain," Slowey said following Tuesday's outing. "So I was definitely glad for that today."
Slowey was brought into the fold in a trade with the Rockies on Jan. 20 -- one day after the Tribe found out Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) had been arrested on charges of using a false identity. Hernandez remains in the Dominican Republic, where he is trying to sort out ongoing legal and visa issues.
In Arizona, Hernandez's former spot on the starting staff is now up for grabs.
Slowey is in a four-way battle with right-handers Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister, along with lefty David Huff. Of the four, Slowey boasts the most big league experience, having twice won at least 12 games in a season for the Twins.
Last year, though, the 27-year-old Slowey went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in 14 appearances with Minnesota, which traded him to Colorado in December. Slowey was shelved for a month between April and May due to a right shoulder injury, and he later missed two months between May and July because of an abdominal strain.
Those injuries are now in the rearview mirror.
In a 3-2 Cactus League win over the Royals, Slowey scattered four hits, but limited the damage with five flyouts and one groundout. Slowey finished with 37 pitches, including 23 for strikes, in his first audition in front of manager Manny Acta.
"Slowey made pitches," Acta said. "He had some traffic at the beginning, but he made some good pitches. He's only had an outing earlier in those simulated games and today. He did what he's done in the past, which is throw strikes. He's a contact guy."
Slowey said he is trying not to think too much about being in the middle of a spring competition. After all, it is not much different than previous preseasons that the right-hander has experienced.
"Most of my springs have been that way," he said. "I'm just fine with that. I don't expect anything to be handed to me, and I know the rest of the guys in that clubhouse in Cleveland have never had anything handed to them.
"Anybody right now who's sure where they're going to be, it's because they earned it. I'm looking forward to doing that."
Perez throws for first time since injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- After nearly two weeks of a gradual rehab process, Indians closer Chris Perez was allowed to pick up a baseball again on Tuesday morning.
Perez worked through 45 throws from a distance of 60 feet at the Tribe's player development complex, marking the first time he has played catch since injuring his left oblique during a bullpen session early in camp.
"I felt good," Perez told reporters on Tuesday. "I don't know what's on tap for tomorrow."
Perez strained his side in the later stages of a 10-minute mound session on Feb. 23. Cleveland announced that the timetable for recovery for his type of injury typically takes four to six weeks, meaning that returning before Opening Day remains a possibility.
"He played catch with [head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff]," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That's a good first step, is being able to do it and follow the calendar."
Last week, Perez guessed that he might be able to return to game action by March 15, but that is likely an unrealistic target date. If the closer's comeback falls within the four-to-six-week time frame, he might be able to take the mound in a game at some point between March 22 and Opening Day on April 5.
The Indians will see how Perez feels on Wednesday morning before moving ahead with the next step in his throwing program, which will see the distances increase in 15-foot increments. Perez needs to build up to 120 feet before moving back on a mound and then beginning game activities.
Last year, the 26-year-old Perez posted a 3.32 ERA and saved 36 games in 40 opportunities in an All-Star season for the Indians.
Indians left-hander Rafael Perez, who is projected to open the season in the bullpen, threw from a distance of 120 feet on Tuesday morning. Head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff indicated that Perez (sore left shoulder) should be back on a mound soon.
Minor League right-handers Austin Adams and Tyler Sturdevant have each dealt with soreness in their throwing shoulder early this spring. Adams is throwing again and should be back on a mound soon. Sturdevant has been shut down for a few days. In both cases, Cleveland's medical staff elected to take an extremely conservative approach.
The Indians' 3:10 p.m. ET game against the D-backs on Wednesday will be aired on MLB Network. As part of the broadcast, a handful of players and coaches from each team will be mic'd up for live in-game updates. For Cleveland, Casey Kotchman, Jason Kipnis, Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan, Michael Brantley and manager Manny Acta are tentatively down to take part.
Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore -- sidelined at least two months after undergoing surgery on his lower back last week -- reported back to camp on Monday. Sizemore will continue his rehab from back and knee surgeries in Arizona.
Quote to note:
"He's already set a record. It takes a month sometimes for him to get two walks. He's got two in one week. His eyesight is good." --Acta, joking on Tuesday about infielder Cristian Guzman