SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez cracked a smile when asked if it was silly to wonder if he was excited about finally being cleared to throw a bullpen session.
"It's not silly at all," said Perez, who has been sidelined for the past three weeks with a left oblique strain. "I'm excited about a bullpen. It's the next step."
On Wednesday, Perez threw long toss from a distance of 150 feet, marking the final stage of his flat-ground throwing program before being able to move back on a mound. If Perez feels fine over the next two days, the closer will be able to work through a bullpen session during Friday morning's workout at the Indians' player development complex.
Perez injured his side near the end of his first bullpen session of the spring and the team indicated that he would need four to six weeks to fully recover. If he continues at his current pace, Perez believes he will be able to squeeze in five or six Cactus League appearances before camp breaks.
Prior to pitching in spring games, though, Perez needs to work through one or two bullpen sessions and likely a simulated game against Minor League hitters.
"We're still on pace to make it for Opening Day, which is our biggest goal right now," Perez said. "No setbacks. I'm feeling good. My arm feels better than it did last year at any point. It feels like I did in 2010. I'm ready to go.
"That's another frustrating part. My arm feels so good that I want to get out there. I want to attack. I want to do my job and I can't do it."
Perez's job is to hold down the ninth inning and he did so to the tune of 36 saves in 40 chances as an American League All-Star last season. Cleveland remains hopeful that he will be able to be in the bullpen come Opening Day, but manager Manny Acta has noted that setup man Vinnie Pestano could serve as a temporary closer, if necessary.
Tomlin looking to vary pitching approach
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Josh Tomlin has earned a reputation as a pitcher capable of consistently peppering the strike zone, but the Indians starter believes there are times when he throws too many strikes.
That is one issue Tomlin felt he encountered Tuesday, when he surrendered seven runs on eight hits in three innings against the Rangers. Texas' hitters took on an extremely aggressive approach, and Tomlin thinks he could have done more to keep them off-balance.
"I've got to kind of be effectively wild outside the zone sometimes," Tomlin said. "If I can throw it three inches off the black intentionally, I could make them expand the zone. People are aggressive against me, so I've got to make them expand their zone."
Last season, Tomlin finished tied for second in the American League with both a strike rate of 68 percent and a first-pitch strike rate of 65 percent. Hitters put his pitches in play 83 percent of the time, but the right-hander used that to his advantage. Tomlin tied for the team lead with 12 wins and ranked first in the AL with an average of 1.14 walks per nine innings.
Indians manager Manny Acta understands Tomlin's desire to make hitters chase pitches in certain counts, but the skipper does not want the righty to stray too far from his pound-the-strike-zone style.
"There are times when you're going to get hit around," Acta said of Tomlin's most recent spring showing. "Do you need to throw more quality strikes sometimes? Yeah. Or try to make guys chase when you're way ahead in the count? Yes. But, I mean, that's who he is. He throws strikes.
"If you face great hitters, they're still going to fail seven out of 10 times. But, there are going to be days like [Tuesday] where they're going to tattoo you."
Beyond finding times to purposely throw balls to set hitters up or tempt them to expand the zone, Tomlin said he also needs to stick with a varied approach within the strike zone. For example, the right-hander noted that he did not throw many strikes high in the zone during Tuesday's debacle.
"If I get too comfortable in the zone," Tomlin said, "guys are going to be free-swinging on me all the time. Hitters are good enough where, if they know I'm around the plate, they're not going to miss too many pitches. For me, it's changing eye levels and making good pitches.
"I've got to do a better job with that. It's something where I have to make the adjustment now before the season starts."
Kotchman returns to Indians' workouts
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It might still be a few days before first baseman Casey Kotchman returns to the lineup for the Indians, but he was at least able to take part in Wednesday morning's workout without any issues related to his back injury.
"He continues to get better every day," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We're just being cautious."
At the Tribe's spring complex Wednesday, Kotchman was able to stretch and play catch with his teammates prior to Cleveland's road game against the Giants in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Indians' starting first baseman also took some dry swings in the batting cage as part of his rehab program.
With Kotchman out of the lineup for the fifth day in a row, first baseman Matt LaPorta got the nod against San Francisco. It is not clear when Kotchman might be cleared to resume playing in Cactus League contests for Cleveland.
"No rush," Acta said. "We want to leave camp as healthy as we can."
The Indians signed the 29-year-old Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3 million over the offseason to serve as the team's new first baseman. Last year with the Rays, he hit .306 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs in 146 games.
In four Cactus League games this spring, Kotchman has hit .231 (3-for-13) with one RBI.
Acta remains optimistic that Kotchman's injury -- initially described by the team as lower back tightness -- will not linger deep into the preseason.
"That's why we're being cautious with it," Acta said, "just to make sure."
Quote to note
"We're going to put the best team on the field. It's not about being comfortable. It's about winning ballgames. I'd rather sleep on a very uncomfortable bed if I'm promised that I'm going to win 100 games." -- Indians manager Manny Acta, joking when asked about pitchers being more comfortable with certain catchers
Fans who missed Wednesday's "30 Clubs in 30 Days" episode featuring the Indians on MLB Network will have an opportunity to catch it again Thursday. The one-hour show will air again at 3 a.m. ET, 6 a.m. ET and 12 p.m. ET.
Right-hander Derek Lowe added cutters to the mix for the first time this spring during his four-inning outing against the Giants on Wednesday afternoon. The sinkerballer logged 42 pitches (27 strikes) and ended with one run allowed on two hits with one walk.
Indians outfielder Felix Pie, who crashed hard into a wall Sunday, returned to the lineup Wednesday after sitting out the previous two games due to neck stiffness. Pie manned center field and served as the leadoff man against the Giants.
Indians manager Manny Acta indicated that the ballclub expects to have some roster cuts coming down the pike Thursday. As things stand right now, Cleveland has 59 players in camp with the big league club.
Minor League first baseman Beau Mills -- Cleveland's top pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- was in uniform for the Tribe for Wednesday's game against the Giants. Acta said Mills will likely get a handful of at-bats for the Indians throughout the spring.