GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez continues to make progress on his return to the mound. On Saturday, Perez took another step forward in his throwing program without experiencing any lingering issues in his oblique.
"I feel good," Perez said. "Right now, everything is based on how I'm feeling each day and I'm feeling really good."
Perez strained his left oblique during his first bullpen session of the spring on Feb. 23, forcing Cleveland to shut him down for a brief period of time. The right-hander has since resumed building up his throwing, advancing to playing catch from a distance of 105 feet during Saturday's morning workout.
The next step in Perez's program calls for throwing long toss at a distance of 120 feet -- likely on Sunday or Monday. From there, the closer would likely move back on a mound for the first time since the injury, beginning with a couple of bullpen sessions, before moving to live batting practice sessions.
There is still no announceed timetable for Perez's return to Cactus League games, but the Indians remain optimistic about his chances of being ready in time for Opening Day. In the event that Perez is not ready for the start of the regular season, Tribe manager Manny Acta has indicated that setup man Vinnie Pestano would serve as the temporary closer.
Last year, in his first full season as the Indians closer, Perez notched 36 saves in 40 opportunities and made the American League All-Star team for the first time in his career.
Rotation security lets Masterson mix it up
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is something to be said for taking the mound with a complete sense of job security. For Justin Masterson, he not only knows that he will be in the Indians' rotation, but that he will be on the mound come Opening Day.
That knowledge has allowed Masterson to work without worry.
"You can just come in and relax and get ready -- prepare," Masterson said. 'You're not trying to make that spot."
In Saturday's 5-2 Cactus League loss to the Padres, Masterson began mixing some secondary pitches after sticking with all fastballs in his first outing. The result was a three-inning performance in which he allowed one run on four hits and struck out four, his pitch count decreasing with each frame he threw.
Indians manager Manny Acta was content with what he witnessed from the sinkerballer.
"I really like the way Masterson threw the ball," Acta said. "He got through three innings on less than 50 pitches. He was able to mix his pitches today different than his first outing, when he threw nothing but fastballs. He threw some good sliders today."
During a 20-pitch first inning, Masterson allowed a pair of two-out hits and hit San Diego's Kyle Blanks with a pitch, allowing one run to cross the plate in the process. The right-hander needed 14 pitches to escape the second inning unscathed after giving up two more two-out hits, and he used just eight pitches to retire the side in order in the third.
"We added everything," said Masterson, who noted that he mixed in slider and changeups in the second and third innings. "We're just continuing to move the process -- get the feeling for it out in the game when the adrenaline is up a little bit -- and have some fun with that."
As Masterson's pitch count continues to build, so does his anticipation for starting on Opening Day.
"I take it with humility and pride," Masterson said. "There's only 30 Opening Day starters, and you're one of them for this year. I think that's a pretty impressive feat. It shows that you've done something good to be there and someone felt like you deserved that position. So, I take it with pride, but also humility that there's a lot of great pitchers out there and I was chosen to be in that spot."
Lopez likes his chances of sticking in Cleveland
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jose Lopez had a few teams attempting to sign him over the winter, but he viewed the situation in Cleveland as an opportunity he did not want to pass up. Even if it was just a Minor League contract, the infielder saw a chance to make an impact.
"A couple teams asked me to sign with them," Lopez said on Saturday morning. "Cleveland had more opportunity. I'd have more chances to play first base, second base, third base and designated hitter. And I know the American League.
"They're giving me a chance, and now I'm fighting for a spot."
Just a few years ago, Lopez was a power-hitting second baseman for the Mariners with an All-Star appearance on his resume. This spring, he is trying to revive his career by competing for a job as a utility infielder.
The Tribe added Lopez as a non-roster invitee over the winter, but he appears to have a fan in Indians manager Manny Acta.
"He's a guy who's had success in the big leagues in the past," Acta said. "He had a couple of down years, but he's in very good shape. He played winter ball and did well in winter ball. He's been having some good at-bats for us. He's a guy who could make things interesting."
Over the winter, the 28-year-old Lopez played 43 games for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League and hit .310 (52-for-268) with five home runs, 12 doubles and 24 RBIs. That followed a decent finish to an inconsistent 2011 campaign, split between the Rockies and Marlins. Lopez hit .216 overall, but posted a .273 average in his final 32 games.
Lopez cited sporadic playing time with the Rockies for his poor showing at the plate. He hit .208 in 38 games for Colorado before being released on June 7. The Marlins signed him a couple of days later, and he enjoyed spurts of success. Lopez hit .364 in 20 games between August and September, but then ended the year in a 1-for-21 dry spell.
Lopez said his offensive performance is all about maintaining a sound rhythm in the batter's box. Over the winter, his goal was to find the same type of groove he had offensively in 2009, when he hit .272 with 25 homers, 42 doubles and 96 RBIs across 153 games with Seattle.
Lopez feels he succeeded in that regard.
"I had to play winter ball," Lopez said. "I played two months and I tried getting my rhythm back to how it was in 2009. I did it good in winter ball. And, right now, I feel good."
Four games of Cactus League play is hardly a large enough sample size, but it is worth noting that Lopez has hit .556 (5-for-9) with one homer and one double. In Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Padres at Goodyear Ballpark, Lopez went 1-for-3 as the starter at second base.
During winter ball, Lopez played mainly third base. Last season, he spent 39 games at third, another 20 at second base and eight as a first baseman. With a starting lineup full of left-handed hitters, Cleveland is hoping to field a bench that includes players who offer both versatility and a right-handed bat.
While he is not on the 40-man roster, Lopez fits that mold.
"We can get creative at the end if we need to," Acta said.
The Indians invited members of the Chardon High School baseball team to Progressive Field on Friday to take batting practice in the cages and to get a tour of the ballpark and clubhouses. Three students from the school were killed and two others wounded in a shooting at CHS on Feb. 27.
The Indians and Angels have cancelled the "B" game they were originally scheduled to play at Cleveland's player development complex on Wednesday. As of right now, the Tribe does not have any other extra exhibition games scheduled before camp breaks on April 2.
Acta said the big league club will likely send a handful of players back to Minor League camp within the next few days. Acta added that another wave of roster cuts will likely come on Thursday.
Acta has not seen much improvement in first baseman Matt LaPorta's approach at the plate this spring. "He's working really hard during batting practice and in early work," Acta said. "It just hasn't transferred to the games yet. He has scuffled in the at-bats that he has had so far."
Quote to note:
"I think it helps me out on the mound. You don't get too aggressive. It's easy, easy, easy and then, 'Whop!' That's kind of the idea of what you want. Literally, the 'Whop!' is what you want to hear. It's like the whip cracks." -- Indians starter Justin Masterson, on how his easygoing personality translates to pitching