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02/22/10 6:26 PM EST

Sowers behind in race for Tribe rotation

Out of options, lefty recovering from sore left shoulder

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jeremy Sowers arrived at the Indians' Player Development Complex about a month in advance of the report date for pitchers and catchers this Spring Training.

He came here eager to win a job in the Tribe's rotation, sure. But Sowers' early arrival had more practical implications.

For much of the 2009 season, Sowers was bothered by soreness in his left shoulder. So the Indians had him come to camp early to receive treatment for the issue, but he said he still expects to be "a couple weeks" behind his fellow pitchers in camp. Manager Manny Acta estimated that Sowers will be "seven to 10 days" behind.

That's not a great forecast for Sowers, who is out of Minor League options and vying with fellow left-handers David Huff and Aaron Laffey and right-hander Mitch Talbot for one of two open spots in the starting rotation.

"Obviously not," Sowers said Monday. "But you can't pick when you get hurt. You deal with it. I've had plenty of opportunities to prove my value to this team. Whatever happens, happens."

The official diagnosis on Sowers is left shoulder inflammation. He said he's worked during the past month to improve the strength in his shoulder muscles, and he has begun doing some long-tossing and throwing off flat ground.

Tribe pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout Tuesday, with the hurlers throwing all their pitches off the mound for 10 minutes apiece. Sowers won't be part of that workout, though he said he is scheduled to throw about 25-30 pitches off a mound to see how his shoulder tolerates the activity.

"There's no telling how quickly I'll progress," he said.

The knock on the 26-year-old Sowers, who was the Tribe's No. 1 Draft pick in 2004, last season was that he lost effectiveness the second and third time through an opponent's lineup. For the season, he was 6-11 with a 5.25 ERA in 23 appearances, including 22 starts, at the big league level. The opposition hit .205 off him the first time through the lineup, .303 the second and .370 the third.

Could the shoulder problem have been causing fatigue that affected Sowers' effectiveness over the course of a game?

Not really, Sowers said.

"If my velocity was going down [as the game wore on], you could point to that," he said. "But that's probably more coincidence -- a mental hurdle more than a physical hurdle, and the challenge of facing guys a third time."

The shoulder situation places a hurdle in front of Sowers as he hopes to land a job and avoid getting placed on waivers. As he noted, he has had his share of chances to prove his worth, having logged 71 starts over the past four seasons. In that time, he's compiled an 18-30 record and 5.18 ERA. His stock has fallen steadily in the wake of his strong second half in his rookie season of '06.

Sowers and Talbot are both out of options, and it's been speculated that those two guys could contend for a bullpen job if they don't make the rotation.

Early effectiveness in his starts last season led some to believe Sowers might be better-suited for a long relief role, though his raw stuff hardly seems like relief material.

Sowers himself sounded a bit skeptical about the bullpen possibility when asked about it Monday.

"I think since I've been drafted I've logged eight innings out of a bullpen," he said. "And they were all clean innings where I knew when I'd be coming out of the 'pen and when I'd pitch. That being said, if it came to that, pitching is pitching. The bullpen is a different mindset, but, when you're on the mound, it's all the same."

If Sowers doesn't get on the mound in games early in the Cactus League season, it's doubtful he'll be a serious candidate for the rotation.

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