Tribe Happenings: Perez out, but hopefully not long
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
C-Perez sidelined with an injury
Last Sunday the Indians disclosed that right-handed closer Chris Perez had suffered a strain to his left oblique and that he will be out for four to six weeks so he can properly recover from the injury. He suffered the injury during his first bullpen session on Thursday February 23rd when he pushed himself a little too hard too soon.
There is a chance that Perez may open the season on the 15-day disabled list, but he responded very well to treatment this past week and may begin a throwing program later this coming week. If he does not have any setbacks he should be good to go for the start of the season, but it should be noted that oblique injuries can be tricky and linger, so he is by no means out of the woods yet.
So many Indians’ pitchers in the past have had the dreaded oblique strain early in the early part of a season and it ruined their year, most notably lefty Cliff Lee in 2007 when he suffered the injury in spring training that year and was a disaster the rest of the season. There are also countless examples of guys in the minors the past few years that were never the same in a season when they suffered an oblique injury in the spring. Hopefully Perez makes a full recovery, but this is something to definitely monitor going forward.
If Perez has a setback or the Indians decide to play it safe and be ultra conservative with his return and put him on the disabled list to start the season, then right-handed setup man Vinnie Pestano would temporarily step into the closer’s role. Pestano is no stranger to closing games as he was primarily a closer in college (27 saves) and the minors (71 saves) before pitching full time in the big leagues last year with the Indians.
With Pestano ready and waiting to fill the closer’s role, it may not necessarily be a bad thing for the Indians if Perez has to spend some time on the disabled list. Even still, hopefully the injuries early in camp are not a bad omen that the injury bug that really stunted the Indians’ season last year is still hanging around. The Indians can ill afford to lose too many of their important guys to injury, and for as much as I have harped on Perez in the past, he is important because he keeps everyone in the pen in their normal role.
Perez, 26, was an All Star last season and in 64 appearances went 4-7 with 36 saves and a 3.32 ERA. His 90% conversion rate in save opportunities (36-for-40) was one of the best percentages in the Major Leagues last year, though there are some concerns with the drop in his strikeout rate from 8.7 K/9 in 2010 to 5.9 K/9 last year and a jump in baserunners going from a 1.08 WHIP in 2010 to a 1.21 WHIP last year.
Perez had two short rough stretches last season. One was from July 18 to August 6th where in seven outings covering 6.1 innings he allowed seven earned runs, and the other from September 10-16th where in two outings covering 1.1 innings he allowed six earned runs. Those two rough patches aside, he was a very consistent performer all season as he only allowed nine total earned runs in his other 55 outings covering 52.0 innings (1.56 ERA).
Perez has supposedly made some adjustments - mostly of the mental variety - as he plans to attack and finish hitters off this year instead of using the pitch to contact approach he implored last year to try and get quick outs. That approached worked for the most part, but it hurt his overall effectiveness with putting hitters away and made him susceptible to giving up baserunners and ultimately runs in an inning. If he can get back to his more dominating fashion with the higher strikeouts and lower baserunners like in 2010, he will be more effective and the Indians will benefit.
Sizemore has another surgery
On Thursday the Indians announced that outfielder Grady Sizemore underwent a minimally invasive low back procedure called a micro discectomy. The procedure involved the removal of disc material that was putting pressure on a nerve root in his back, and the recovery period from such an operation is eight to twelve weeks.
Sizemore, 29, initially injured his back about three weeks ago while fielding ground balls in the outfield. The Indians were aware of the injury but did not disclose it until last week as they were working through internal treatment options before opting to shut him down and ultimately have the surgery. He is resting from the surgery and is expected to return to Goodyear, Arizona to begin rehabbing his back in the next week or two.
This is an unfortunate injury setback for Sizemore and the Indians as he will probably not be available until at least June. That is a best case scenario as in addition to rehabbing from back surgery the issue is compounded because he also has to rehab from his right knee surgery he had in the offseason. Also, considering his health issues the last four seasons, it is hard to be optimistic of him returning in June, much less before the All Star break.
The back surgery is now Sizemore’s sixth surgery in the last four seasons. In addition to the back surgery he has had two hernia operations, microfracture surgery on his left knee, surgery on his left elbow, and the right knee surgery this past offseason. All of those injuries and surgeries the past few years have crippled his career, a once promising career where he was one of the most promising young stars in the game.
Left field competition
With Sizemore out for an extended amount of time, barring injury, outfielder Michael Brantley will become the regular center fielder. This creates an opening in left field and now makes for one of the most interesting camp battles this spring to see who ends up winning the regular left field job.
Considering that the options for left field are limited, the Indians may instead approach filling the left field void with some sort of platoon where the player that makes the roster as the fourth outfielder also factors heavily into the playing rotation in left field. The Indians have around a dozen outfielders in camp that technically are in the running for the job, but really the only true candidates for a more expanded role appear to be Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Spilborghs, Fred Lewis, and Felix Pie.
Duncan is likely on the team no matter what, either in a regular role as the left fielder or as a right-handed bat off the bench. The right-handed Cunningham also looks like an early camp favorite to make the team considering he is out of options and the Indians essentially gave up on two minor league relievers from the upper levels of their system to acquire him.
Matt LaPorta and Russ Canzler are really not an everyday options in left field, so they would only be options as right-handed bats off the bench that play some left field, first base, and designated hitter, especially if Duncan becomes the regular left fielder.
One guy that may be a dark horse in the left field mix is Spilborghs. In fact, right now he is probably near the top as far as favorites to make the opening day roster. He had plantar fasciitis last year which slowed him down (.210 AVG, .588 OPS), but prior to last season he was a productive player in five seasons with the Rockies from 2006-2010 (.281 AVG, .794 OPS). He is supposedly completely healthy and ready to compete for a job this spring, and his right-handed bat and versatility would be a good fit in a platoon in left field.
With Sizemore going on the 60-day disabled list when the season starts, it easily creates a roster spot for a non-roster player such as Spilborghs, Pie and Lewis, so problem solved there. So the competition is wide open.
MLB gets wilder
Major League Baseball officially announced on Friday that they will be adopting a ten-team playoff format effective this season. The change was originally made in December as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), but they were not sure they would be able to implement the new postseason setup for this season since the schedule had already been set.
The new playoff format will now have an extra wildcard team in each league, so in both the American League and National League there will be three division winners and two wildcard teams. The two wildcard teams in both leagues will face off in a winner-take-all one game playoff to kick off the postseason. The winner of that one game wildcard playoff will then play the number one seed in the normal Division Series best-of-five setup.
I love this new wrinkle. It does not dilute the postseason like the NBA or NHL as only five teams from each league make the playoffs. Since the wildcard era began in 1994, ESPN’s Jayson Stark mentioned that had the second wildcard been in place since then that they would have averaged 89 wins, which is a pretty strong team.
Most importantly, it adds another opportunity for a team like the Indians to make the playoffs in any given year and to stay in the race deeper into the season. For example, had the second wildcard been in place in 2000 and 2005 the Indians would have made the playoffs. Those were two seasons they were really playing well down the stretch and could have done some damage in the playoffs. This is good for baseball and should really provide an opportunity for many more teams to compete well into August and September and make a postseason run they otherwise may not have been able to do.
It also makes winning the division very important. In the past wildcard teams in a tight division race really had little incentive to try and win the division in the final week if they had all but wrapped up the wildcard. But now that the wildcard team faces a much tougher outlook of a one game playoff to open their postseason instead of a long five game series as a division winner, well, you can bet teams will fight until the end to win the division.
Random spring notes
Aside from the injuries there has been little that has happened this spring with the Indians that is worth noting (a good thing), but here are a few developments that have come about from the past week:
Manager Manny Acta made it official on Friday when he announced that right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson will be the opening day starter on April 5th at home against the Blue Jays. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez was the other pitcher that was in “consideration”, but Masterson was expected to be named to the post. Jimenez will slide into the second spot in the rotation followed by righties Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe, and then of course whoever wins the fifth starter job this spring.
Acta also announced the first seven hitters in his regular starting lineup: Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, Casey Kotchman, and Jason Kipnis. The winners in the left field and third base competition will hit eighth and ninth.
Left-handed reliever Rafael Perez is working through a sore left shoulder, but it is not considered serious and he is expected to be back in action very soon.
Indians Spring TV Schedule
The Indians will have a total of 12 games that air on TV this spring between SportsTime Ohio (STO) and MLB Network (MLBN). Here are the games (all times eastern):
March 5th vs. Reds (MLBN on tape delay at 6:00AM 3/6)
March 7th vs. Diamondbacks (3:10PM on MLBN)
March 10th vs. Padres (4:05PM on STO, MLBN)
March 11th vs. Angels (4:05PM on STO, MLBN)
March 12th vs. Diamondbacks (4:05PM on STO, MLBN)
March 13th vs. Rangers (4:05PM on STO, tape delay on MLBN at 7:00AM 3/14)
March 15th vs. White Sox (4:05PM on STO, tape delay on MLBN at 9:00AM 3/16)
March 16th vs. Angels (MLBN on tape delay at 2:00AM 3/17)
March 19th vs. Dodgers (4:05PM on STO, MLBN)
March 21st vs. Giants (4:05PM on STO, MLBN)
March 24th vs. Dodgers (4:05PM on MLBN)
March 25th vs. Cubs (MLBN on tape delay at 6:00AM 3/26)
Top prospect right-handed pitcher Austin Adams has a sore shoulder and has been shut down and will be re-evaluated soon. This is something to monitor as you never like to see any injuries to young, promising arms, no matter how small they may be. … My new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles over 180 players in the Indians’ system and runs 230 pages in length is available. For details and to order, go to my site at IndiansProspectInsider.com.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
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