© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

03/13/11 8:20 PM ET

Sizemore takes a major step forward

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The good news for the Indians is that Grady Sizemore is beginning to feel like his old self again.

On Sunday morning, Sizemore ran the bases on a half-diamond located deep within Cleveland's player development complex. With team trainers watching, the center fielder pushed his surgically-repaired left knee nearly to the max, as he sprinted around the basepaths.

"I don't feel slower," Sizemore said after the workout. "I don't feel like I've lost a step."

And that is a major step forward.

It marked the first time that Sizemore ran the bases since undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee in June. He said he ran at 90-95-percent effort, and plans on upping the intensity during his next two baserunning workouts, which are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Then, if everything goes according to plan, Sizemore said he might be cleared to play in games as early as Saturday. At the latest, he hopes to be in a game situation by March 21 or March 22. Before he can gain clearance for game action, Sizemore needs to show he can run and move at full capacity.

"That's the big test this next week," Sizemore said, "to not hold back."

Sizemore smiled when asked if he might prefer to begin with a Minor League game setting, compared to a Cactus League environment.

"My preference right now is just to get on the field," he replied.

It remains unlikely that Sizemore will garner enough spring at-bats in order to be ready to patrol center field for the Tribe against the White Sox for Opening Day on April 1. More important is making sure Sizemore is back to 100 percent -- both at the plate and on the field -- before he rejoins the team.

If the 28-year-old Sizemore -- under contract for $7.5 million this season after being limited to just 33 games due to the knee issue last year -- is unable to go on Opening Day, the Indians will likely go with a starting outfield of Austin Kearns in left, Michael Brantley in center and Shin-Soo Choo in right.

Up to this point in camp, Sizemore has progressed through sprint and agility tests, moving in all directions without any issues. He has taken part in batting practice, and worked with the outfielders -- showing no ill effects from the knee problem. On Sunday, Sizemore said running on dirt felt no different than in the grass.

Sizemore said he did three sets of running completely around the bases. He ran from home to first base, then simulated advancing from first to third, before ending with a sprint from third to the plate. He said he will likely add different baserunning elements later this week.

"It went well," Sizemore said. "Everything's been really good these last two or three weeks. I've been symptom-free. I haven't had any pain -- no setbacks. It's stiff. It's not sore. It's just a different feeling.

"I can't really explain what it is. I just notice the spot, but I don't necessarily have discomfort or pain with it. It's just a matter of getting used to that, trusting it, and being able to push through whatever you're feeling."

Acta likes LaPorta's defense at first

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When it comes to his skills as a defender at first base, Matt LaPorta has a big fan in Indians manager Manny Acta.

"Never a doubt," Acta said. "I'm very high on his defense. I never complained about his defense last year. At the end of the season, he probably was a little worn down and maybe wasn't moving as well, but he played very well defensively for us."

Down the stretch last season, LaPorta dealt with leg fatigue, after spending much of the previous offseason rehabbing from hip and foot surgeries. This spring, LaPorta has looked and felt stronger, and his defense at first base has been sharp early on as a result.

In Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Angels at Goodyear Ballpark, LaPorta made a handful of highlight-reel plays at first. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, he made a diving grab to his right, flipping the ball to pitcher Josh Tomlin for an out at first to escape the jam.

"I feel pretty good over there," LaPorta said on Sunday morning. "I feel like I'm getting back into the swing of things."

What LaPorta means is he is beginning to feel as confident at first base as he did during his college days at the University of Florida. Throughout his professional career, the 26-year-old LaPorta has bounced between the outfield and first base. This year, he will open as the everyday first baseman for Cleveland.

This spring, LaPorta has spent time working with Mike Hargrove and Eduardo Perez on playing first base. He said one area they have focused on is making sure LaPorta is extending his glove when going after ground balls, rather than being forced to catch them closer to his body.

"It's just with the little things that go on and you should pay attention for in a game," LaPorta said. "Really, the biggest thing we've worked on is getting down, and getting my glove out a little more. That's the biggest thing we've really worked on this year."

Acta is fine with LaPorta's defensive ability at first base. The manager said the Indians are more interested in seeing LaPorta enjoy a breakout showing in the batter's box this season. Cleveland is hoping LaPorta can develop into a legitimate right-handed-power threat.

"That's been his ticket in baseball his whole career," Acta said. "[The defense] was rewarding to see ... last year. Still, people were thinking about him being outfield or first base. He took that challenge, and played so well defensively.

"Offensively, that's where most of his improvement will come."

Perez still working on mastering changeup

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez had hoped to enter the upcoming season with a changeup added to his pitching arsenal. With less than three weeks left until Opening Day, Perez is not sure his plan will come to fruition.

"It won't be ready for the start of the season," Perez said on Sunday morning. "I don't trust it, yet. Right now, it's hit or miss, and I don't see a situation where I'll want to use it. I need to master it, first."

Perez said the offspeed offering is too inconsistent right now. The right-hander noted that the changeup is too fast at times and the movement is unpredictable. When it is working properly, the changeup should act like a sinker, diving away from left-handed hitters roughly seven or eight mph slower than his fastball.

Right now, Perez wants to focus on getting his fastball and slider -- his two primary weapons -- ready for the season. He said his top priority now is concentrating on improving with his slider command inside to lefties.

Last season, Perez fashioned a 1.71 ERA and 23 saves for the Tribe, limiting hitters to a .182 batting average. He began working on the changeup late last season and continued to fine-tune the pitch over the winter.

Abdominal soreness sidelines reliever Smith

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Indians reliever Joe Smith is currently fighting upper abdominal soreness, and will likely be sidelined for a few days.

Smith has not pitched in a game since logging one inning against the Padres on Wednesday. He initially thought he would be back on the mound on Sunday, when Cleveland had a road game against San Diego and a "B" game against the White Sox.

"I was supposed to pitch today, actually," Smith said. "I've just been a little sore -- nothing serious. Hopefully, I'll be back in there soon."

Smith said he hopes to be back on a mound for the Indians by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. The 26-year-old right-hander is under contract for $870,000 for the upcoming season. Last year, Smith went 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA in 53 appearances out of the Tribe's bullpen.

Smoke signals

The Indians were defeated, 11-8, by the White Sox in a "B" game on Sunday morning at Chicago's complex in Glendale. Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana led off and served as a designated hitter, finishing 1-for-5 with a home run. Infield prospest Cord Phelps went 2-for-5 with a homer for the Tribe. Indians third-base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who is hitting .478 through 11 Cactus League games this spring, went 3-for-4 in the loss. Pitching prospect Alex White allowed three runs on three hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 2 2/3 innings for the Indians. ... Outfielder Jordan Brown, who left the team to attend to a family situation earlier this week, rejoined the ballclub on Sunday. He started at first base for the Indians in the "B" game. ... Outfielder Trevor Crowe, who has been battling soreness in his right rotator cuff this spring, is still working on strengthening his shoulder. He said on Sunday that he hopes to resume a throwing program soon. ... Indians reliever Chad Durbin approached a group of reporters on Sunday morning and asked, "Did any of you guys get messed up by the time change? There were probably 30 guys here an hour early this morning." Asked if he was one of them, Durbin laughed and nodded. When the clocks change for Daylight Saving Time, Arizona does not alter its clocks. Instead, it shifts from Mountain Standard Time to Pacific Standard Time.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.