CLEVELAND -- Rafael Perez escaped unscathed in his one-inning appearance against the Royals on Wednesday night, but there was still cause for concern.
Perez logged 16 pitches in the eighth inning of Cleveland's 8-2 loss to Kansas City and registered only four strikes in the process. He did, however, induce an inning-ending double-play groundout to sidestep any damage.
Perez's struggles also include a significant drop in velocity.
Entering Thursday's game, the 29-year-old left-hander was averaging 82.3 mph with his slider (the pitch he throws most often) and 87.7 mph with his fastball, according to PitchFX data. The slider stood at 85.7 mph in 2011 and 86.6 mph in 2010. Perez averaged 89.3 with his fastball last season and 90.7 mph in 2010.
For the season he has posted a 3.52 ERA in eight outings, compiling four strikeouts against four walks in 7 2/3 innings.
He missed a few weeks early in Spring Training because of soreness in his left shoulder.
"His stuff has been down a little bit," manager Manny Acta said. "He missed a lot of Spring Training. His velocity has been down, but he was able to make a pitch [on Wednesday night] and get that double play and work himself out of the inning. But he was off."
Kotchman focused on what he can control
CLEVELAND -- First baseman Casey Kotchman is focusing on the fact that it is a long season. There's really nothing else he can do right now in light of the persistent slump that has dogged him out of the gates this season.
"You can't really control results," Kotchman said. "You control the effort you're putting in with your preparation, and you accept the stuff that comes from it. Stuff will turn around over 162 games."
Cleveland can only hope.
Entering Thursday's game, when Kotchman was out of the starting lineup against the Royals, he was hitting .140 through 14 games.
The Indians signed Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3 million over the winter to provide strong defense and to add a little offensive consistency from first base.
So far only the glove has lived up to expectations.
"It's only been a few weeks," manager Manny Acta said. "We have a lot of guys in the lineup that we know [are] better than [how they're hitting]. And there are some guys in the lineup that we know, at the end of the day, they're not going to be hitting .350, either.
"[Kotchman] had a good series over there in Kansas City. We just have to continue to play those guys and continue to work. He had a very good season last year, so he'll come out of it."
Kotchman, who hit .306 last season for Tampa Bay, went 5-for-11 with two home runs and three RBIs in a three-game road series against Kansas City from April 13-15. Since then he has been mired in a 1-for-25 funk, and he entered the series finale in Cleveland in an 0-for-22 dry spell that included 11 groundouts (two double plays), six strikeouts and five flyouts.
"Obviously, this isn't how you want to start the year," Kotchman said. "But all you can do is keep seeing pitches, try to put some good swings on the ball, and stuff will start falling in there for you. They're not trying to make it easy for you. Those pitchers are in the big leagues for a reason, too.
"You just keep going. That's all you can do. That's the good thing about this sport. You play so many games that over the course of a year, stuff has a way of working out."
Choo playing it safe with hamstring ailment
CLEVELAND -- Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo remembers what happened the last time he attempted to come back from an injury before he was completely healed -- he aggravated the ailment and was shut down for the season.
That is why he is playing it smart with his left hamstring.
"It's still early in the season," Choo said on Thursday morning, "so I didn't want to make it worse."
Choo was out of the starting lineup on Thursday for the second consecutive game after exiting Tuesday's game against the Royals in the eighth inning because of the injury. He indicated that he is feeling much improved, and his hope is that he will be able to rejoin the lineup within the next couple of days.
The Indians opens a three-game weekend series with the Angels on Friday.
"I feel much better now -- a lot better," he said.
Choo noted that he'd actually felt some mild soreness in the hamstring prior to Tuesday's game but did not feel it was serious. It was not until the sixth inning, when he was running the bases, that he felt some more pain flare in his leg, and it worsened enough to convince him to exit before the end of the game.
"I've never had my hamstring hurt that much in my baseball career," he said. "It's tightness, so maybe it's OK. I've had tightness many times before during the season, but not that sore. It was the first time I felt like that with my hamstring, so I shut it down."
Choo returned from an injury to his left oblique on Sept. 14 of last season and re-injured his side the following day. He went back on the disabled list on Sept. 16 and sat out the remainder of the season. He wants to avoid a similar scenario this time.
"I really wanted to finish the game [on Tuesday], but I wanted to be smart about it," he said. "I didn't want to make it worse. I felt it a little bit before the game, but not that bad. Just a little bit. Last year I know it was a different kind of situation and injury -- the oblique -- but I tried to come back, and then I made it worse."
Quote to note
"You've just got to keep grinding out the at-bats. It just takes one pitch, one at-bat, and then stuff starts rolling. It's cruise-control from there. Until then, obviously, it's not fun. The good thing is, we have been winning." -- Casey Kotchman, who entered Thursday's game in an 0-for-22 slump
Designated hitter Travis Hafner had reached base via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in nine consecutive games entering Thursday, and reached safely in 13 of his 14 games played on the year. On the Major League leaderboard, Hafner (.484) headed into Thursday's action trailing only the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (.513) in on-base percentage.
The Indians drew three walks in Wednesday's 8-2 loss to the Royals, upping their Major League-leading total to 88. Cleveland has drawn at least three walks in all but one of its first 16 games this year.
Cleveland's bullpen saw a streak of 30 2/3 innings without a home run allowed come to an end in the ninth inning on Wednesday. Over the past two games, Indians relievers had allowed six runs in six innings after giving up just two runs in the previous 19 2/3 frames.
Minor League pitcher Harold Guerrero has received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Guerrero is on the roster of the Class A Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the New York-Penn League.