For the second year in a row Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez is missing significant time in Spring Training due to an injury. With a deep and healthy stable of relievers, should the Tribe err on the side of caution and place Perez on the disabled list to open the 2013 season?
Last spring a strained an oblique muscle sidelined Perez for a month (February 27 through March 25th) and his first two appearances when he returned were minor league games where he only threw a combined 18 pitches. Not including the two minor league appearances he left Arizona with a grand total of 3 innings under his belt.
Then came Opening Day. Despite all the encouraging reports of his velocity in Goodyear, based on the results of his Opening Day appearance he wasn’t even close to ready. He entered the game with a 4-1 lead but was unable to save Justin Masterson‘s gem as he gave up three runs on three hits and two walks. He retired only two of the seven batters he faced in a game that the Indians eventually lost 7-4 in 16 innings.
Jack Moore at FanGraphs did an excellent job recapping Perez’s troubles in a story titled Dissecting Chris Perez’s Blown Save. Moore noted that Perez was barely hitting 90 mph on the radar gun and showed very little control. Despite the lack of velocity Perez insisted that the outing had nothing to do with his injury or lack of work in the preseason. In the end he may have had a point as that performance turned out to be a blip on the radar of what turned out to be a stellar 2012 season for the Indians closer.
Once again this spring Perez will miss approximately a month of action. Unlike last years oblique injury this year it is an injury directly related to his pitching arm and its a shoulder injury. Not surprisingly Perez is telling everyone he is ready to go and will be ready by Opening Day:
“As of right now, it’s not even a question, I’ll be there. There’s no pain, there’s no nothing, but stuff can happen. Anybody can have something pop up on them, but the initial injury is gone.”
He also immediately referenced last year’s three spring training outings as justification to his timeline:
“Yeah, for you guys I was fine with only three spring-training appearances, I got the job done, but I said a couple of times that I was still going through spring training in April even though I got off to a good start.”
“When the medical staff says we can pitch him, we’ll be glad to pitch him. The good news is, regardless of what CP proclaims, he obviously feels good if he’s saying that. So that’s good news.”
After the letdown of missing an opportunity to be with Team USA because of the injury, Perez doesn’t want to miss another big event like Opening Day and he is chomping at the bit to be with the club in Toronto. Unfortunately for Perez, the injury he suffered is directly related to his pitching arm and because of that the Indians should take extra precaution and make sure he is 100% healthy and ready to assume his role as the closer for the long grind of the major league season.
By Major League rules a player can be placed on the disabled list retroactive to 10 days prior to Opening Day. The grand bargain between Francona and Perez could be that he is placed on the disabled list retroactive to March 22nd but he makes the trek north of the border. While in Toronto he throws either a bullpen or simulated game under the watchful eye of trainer Lonnie Soloff. While the Indians travel to Tampa he finishes his rehab with the Columbus Clippers in Indianapolis over the weekend and is activated for Opening Day against the New York Yankees on April 8th.
The Indians have the luxury of having a player labeled as a future closer in Vinnie Pestano, and unlike previous years they have a number of options to fill the late-inning relief role vacated by Pestano including Joe Smith, Cody Allen, or Bryan Shaw. They could also choose to bring an extra left-handed reliever such as Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone, or David Huff, who is out of options and may be able to serve in a more traditional long-man role for the first two series.
Despite Perez’ desire to be with the team on Opening Day the organization should err on the side of caution and take advantage of the strength in numbers in the bullpen. Use the extra time to make certain that Perez’s shoulder injury is fully healed and protect Chris Perez from himself. The Tribe has a lot invested in their closer and rushing him back to action could have serious consequences for the rest of the season.