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All eyes on injured closer Perez

The SportsXchange

If the Cleveland Indians have learned one thing about closer Chris Perez, it's to not overreact to one of his spring training injuries. On the other hand, Perez is the team's closer. And closers don't grow on trees. At least elite closers don't grow on trees.

Perez has not pitched in a spring training game since Feb. 26, which is the day the Indians shut him down due to a strained right shoulder. The injury got everyone's attention because Perez is an elite closer. He has been selected to the American League All-Star team in each of the last two years and his 99 saves ranks fourth on the Indians' all-time list.

He ranked fourth in the American League last year with a career-high 39 saves. If he saves 39 games again in 2013 it will move him into second place on the club's all-time list, one save behind Bob Wickman's team record 139.

If he's not traded, Perez could become the Indians' all-time leader in saves either this year or next year. But before he can save a game this year he has to get healthy. The initial prognosis for Perez's strained shoulder muscle was that he would likely miss three to four weeks.

If Perez had any setbacks, however, it could put his availability for opening day in jeopardy. The Indians open the season on April 2. "We think he'll be ready for opening day, but we'll have to wait and see," said general manager Chris Antonetti. "The longer he's down the longer it's going to take him to get back."

Perez was scheduled to begin a throwing program on Sunday. However, it's almost like the start of spring training for him all over again, so it remains to be seen whether he will be able to pitch in some exhibition games before the end of training camp.

This is the second consecutive year Perez has had a spring training injury. Last year he had a strained oblique that prevented him from pitching in a spring training game until March 29. He only pitched three innings in spring training because of the injury -- but then went on to save a career-high 39 games.

So while the Indians are hopeful Perez will be back by Opening Day, if he's not, the club feels good about setup man Vinnie Pestano filling in as the interim closer while Perez is out.
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