Shoulder strain puts Perez out of Classic
Opening Day could be in doubt for Indians' closer, shut down for week to 10 days
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez was excited about the chance to don his country's uniform in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. A right shoulder strain has now robbed the pitcher of that opportunity this spring.
On Friday, two days before Perez was scheduled to join Team USA for the international tournament, Cleveland announced that the closer suffered a subscapularis strain in his throwing shoulder. The two-time All-Star will be shut down for a period of seven to 10 days, with the goal of returning to game activity within the next three to four weeks.
That timetable puts Perez at risk for missing Opening Day.
"It's really difficult to replace a closer like Chris," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He means a lot to the team, and I'm hopeful we won't need to. I'm hopeful he'll be ready to start the season."
Perez logged one inning in a Cactus League game against the Royals on Tuesday and was slated to pitch again for Cleveland on Friday against the White Sox. The closer felt something in his shoulder during his outing versus Kansas City, and Cleveland scratched his next scheduled appearance in order to determine the extent of the injury.
After being examined by Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff and Cleveland's medical team, the club discovered the shoulder strain.
Perez will not be cleared to resume playing catch until he no longer has symptoms of the shoulder issue. Once the right-hander is deemed ready for a throwing program, he will need to advance through light catch and long-toss before returning to a mound. Pitchers then typically work through simulated games and live batting practice sessions prior to exhibition games.
"The shorter he's down," Antonetti said, "the shorter the timeframe to get him back to game activity. If his symptoms linger for a longer period of time, that means it's likely going to take longer on the other end."
If Perez returns to games in three weeks, it would give the closer roughly a week to prepare for the Tribe's April 2 Opening Day game against the Blue Jays.
Antonetti said both he and manager Terry Francona have made it clear to Perez that the goal is not necessarily to make Opening Day. The Indians want Perez to be smart through his recovery and to return only when he is at full strength.
"Tito and I have already re-emphasized that with him," Antonetti said. "The most important thing is to make sure that he puts the injury behind him, and once he comes back, he's ready to go."
Perez left the Indians' complex in Goodyear, Ariz., without speaking with reporters. As he pulled out of the parking lot in his car, he rolled down his window, stopped briefly and said: "I'm not saying nothing."
The Indians indicated that Perez would meet with the media on Saturday morning.
Antonetti said Perez's physical condition this spring was fine, but noted that the closer's offseason preparation was different from previous winters due to the Classic.
"Chris came into camp in great shape," Antonetti said. "It's something that he'd been preparing for the WBC all offseason. He started his conditioning earlier. He started his throwing earlier."
Team USA will need to replace Perez, who was slated to join the team on Sunday. Cleveland setup man Vinnie Pestano -- a candidate to close if Perez's injury persists -- is still planning on playing for Team USA in the upcoming tournament.
Even in light of the latest development, Antonetti said the Indians would not ask Pestano to remain in camp with Cleveland.
Antonetti added that there is also no need to anoint Pestano the temporary closer at this point.
"We have a few weeks to work through it," Antonetti said. "I'm still hopeful it'll be Chris."
Pestano and Joe Smith (working his way back from a left abdominal strain) project to begin the season as Cleveland's main setup men. Right-hander Matt Albers, who is out of Minor League options, is also a leading candidate for a bullpen job. Others in the mix for jobs include Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Rich Hill, Matt Capps, David Huff and Scott Barnes.
"We have a great 'pen. There's no doubt about it," Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "Even the guys who are battling for a spot, they're going to be tremendous, too. If per chance [Perez's injury lingers], we're going to be great. Even throughout a season, the closer can only go so often, so we're going to need those guys."
Reliever Frank Herrmann -- a bullpen candidate when camp began -- is sidelined indefinitely with a right elbow injury.
Last season, the 27-year-old Perez saved 39 games and had a 3.59 ERA in 61 appearances. Over the past three years, Perez ranks fifth in the Majors in saves (98) and save percentage (89.1). He signed a one-year, $7.3 million contract this past winter to avoid arbitration.
During Spring Training a year ago, Perez suffered an oblique injury in his first bullpen session and was sidelined from Cactus League action until March 29. The closer logged only three official innings in three appearances and was cleared to join the Opening Day roster.
"He always does that in spring," Masterson joked. "He's always got something in spring, so he can take it nice and easy. He's always tricking some way so he can slice and dice during the season. There's no problem with him. He just knows the system."
Kidding aside, Perez blew a save on Opening Day against Toronto on April 5 last year, helping pave the way for a 7-4 loss in 16 innings. Following that rough opening act, however, the closer successfully converted his next 24 save opportunities and posted a 1.76 ERA over a stretch of 32 games that ran into early July.
Perez doesn't seem too worried now.
"This to shall pass"... Small hurdle at an in-opportune time.I feel better now than I did last year with the oblique..Still plenty of time- Chris Perez (@ChrisPerez54) March 1, 2013
Antonetti echoed that sentiment.
"I'm still hopeful that Chris will be there on Opening Day," he said.