03/21/12 7:47 PM ET
Perez on pace for opener after throwing live BP
Tribe closer has no issues with oblique after 20-pitch session
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
As the ball shot off Trevor Crowe's bat and headed back toward the mound on Wednesday morning, Perez thrust his right hand -- his pitching hand -- out to his side in an effort to make a catch. The baseball glanced off the closer's hand and bounced into shallow left field.
"What are you doing?" Crowe yelled from the batter's box.
Trying to catch a sharply struck baseball with a bare hand is a major faux pas for pitchers. Doing so in a live batting-practice session while trying to come back from a strained left oblique -- as was the case for Perez on Wednesday -- is frowned upon even further. Fortunately for Perez and the Indians, it was a minor blip in an otherwise encouraging outing.
"I was just reacting, honestly," Perez said. "I wasn't expecting the first time facing hitters to have the third one hit right back at me. Luckily, we escaped some damage."
Indians manager Manny Acta, who stood behind the batting cage to get a close look at Perez's progress, walked away impressed with what he witnessed on one of the backfields at the team's player development complex. Perez threw with authority and has put himself on a great pace to be ready in time for the start of the regular season.
"He looked really good, man," Acta said. "He was able to throw all his pitches. His slider was really good. I was very impressed. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there. I think we've got plenty of time to get him ready for Opening Day."
Likewise, Perez was in a great mood following his 20-pitch session, during which teammates Crowe and Chad Huffman stepped to the plate to offer the closer a couple of hitters. Crowe hit from the left side and Huffman from the right, allowing Perez to work on his location to both sides of the plate with his fastball and slider.
When the smoke cleared, Perez felt no lingering issues from the oblique injury that flared up on Feb. 23 during his first bullpen session of the spring. The initial timetable for recovery was projected as four to six weeks, and Cleveland's high-energy closer plans on doing everything in his power to be ready in time for Opening Day.
Getting through Wednesday's workout unscathed was a major step.
"Without a doubt," Perez said. "It's the biggest one so far -- the biggest hurdle."
With the live BP workout behind him, Perez can finally turn his focus toward pitching in Cactus League contests. His first official game outing will likely fall on Friday or Saturday, and the closer would likely pitch on an every-other-day basis down the stretch. Under that scenario, Perez could make as many as six appearances before Opening Day.
Perez -- a first-time All-Star for the American League last season -- said the most important aspect of Wednesday's session was the fact that he did not hold anything back. After firing his first pitch, the right-hander did not feel any tightness, allowing him to loosen up and throw with more conviction for the rest of the program.
"I felt great," said Perez, who saved 36 games in 40 chances for the Indians in 2011. "For the first time out there, I don't think it could've gone any better. I didn't feel it at all. I wasn't apprehensive like the last couple [bullpen sessions]. I warmed up good, threw all my pitches and it was fun facing hitters.
"That was another thing I was worried about, is not letting it go. I didn't feel anything. The first pitch I let it go and it felt good. I think that's what made it work today. I didn't feel anything at all from the onset. I just worked into it and let it go."
Joining the closer on Cleveland's comeback trail Wednesday were fellow relievers Rafael Perez and Robinson Tejeda.
Perez and Tejeda each logged one shutout inning in Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Giants at Goodyear Ballpark. The left-handed Perez -- a lock to make the Opening Day bullpen, barring a setback -- struck out two in his lone frame. Tejeda, who is competing for one of the two available relief roles, gave up one walk and a hit, but escaped without allowing a run.
"He was around the strike zone," said Acta, referring to Rafael Perez. "He had a good slider. He was able to face some lefties and was able to retire them with no problem. It was good to see him get out there and have no traffic whatsoever on the bases."
Acta added that he still thinks there is time for Tejeda to make a run at a bullpen job.
"Hopefully we can get him enough innings," Acta said. "It's kind of tough at the end of camp, because the starters are getting stretched out and we need to see the relievers, too. But I think there's enough time to see what he's got."
Acta could do without seeing any more of his pitchers reach for hard-hit grounders with their bare pitching hand, though.
"Hey, it's instincts," Acta said with a shrug. "It was just reaction."