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09/27/09 12:40 PM ET

Different Tribe for Westbrook upon return

Right-hander looking to contribute to squad in 2010

CLEVELAND -- The last time Jake Westbrook made a start in the Major Leagues, on May 28, 2008, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Paul Byrd directly followed him in the Indians' rotation.

Yep, it's been awhile.

If Westbrook is physically ready to rejoin the rotation at the outset of the 2010 season, he'll likely do so as the Tribe's No. 1 starter. The rotation he left behind long ago, when the throbbing in his right elbow led him to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, has been gutted and altered beyond recognition, and Westbrook is the only veteran left.

"Whether I'm the Opening Day starter or the fifth starter, I don't care," Westbrook said on Sunday. "I want to be one of the five guys helping this team next year."

Westbrook had hoped to help in the second half this year, but two setbacks in his recovery from the Tommy John surgery nixed those plans. After a six-week shutdown, he picked up a ball again on Friday, initiating a three-week long toss program that will be followed by a three-week series of bullpen sessions at the Indians' complex in Goodyear, Ariz.

"I'm excited to continue on with my throwing program," Westbrook said. "Where [the elbow] is is where it is. I'm just doing what I need to do to get back."

That might involve a stint in winter ball. If Westbrook gets through his throwing program without further setbacks, he might opt to pitch winter ball to gain some confidence in his arm and his pitches in advance of Spring Training.

"I'm leaning toward doing that," Westbrook said. "It would help get a little bit of peace of mind coming into next year, for me and for the organization."

The organization invested $33 million into Westbrook for the 2008-10 seasons. He's made just five starts within the time period of that contract extension, earning $10 million this year without throwing a single pitch.

What vexes Westbrook is the fact that he was ahead of schedule in his recovery during Spring Training. But he made just three starts in the Minors during his rehab before the elbow flared up again.

"It's the most frustrating year of my career," he said. "It's disappointing, it's frustrating and it's very discouraging. Everything didn't go as planned."

But Westbrook, who turns 32 on Tuesday, has to remind himself that the prescribed timetable for recovery from Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months.

"I was hoping to be on the lower end of that, but I'm not the youngest pitcher in the world," Westbrook said. "I wanted to make it back in 12 months, but that wasn't in the cards for me or my arm."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.