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3.25.2013

Mini Spring Rundown: Getting the Opening Day Chills

Nino Colla | Monday, March 25, 2013 | | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

We've made it friends.

What was first months, then turned to weeks, and to finally days is now so close.

In one week, we'll be anticipating baseball.

Now that the Super Bowl is long gone, out of sight, out of mind, and I KNOW that your bracket is completely busted (be honest), there's one thing in sight for sports fans.

Opening Day. I'm getting chills, and it isn't the weather. It's the good chills.

It's the chills you get when you know something awesome is coming or about to happen.

Business first though, because we're all patient here.

[PEREZ ON TRACK]

We'll all be there watching, and it looks like Chris Perez won't. He'll actually be there playing, not watching. Well, maybe watching up until the ninth inning. Perez has passed another test by throwing in a minor league game on Saturday and will now progress to pitching every other day.

Photo - Getty Images via Yahoo! Sports
If all goes well, he'll throw a bullpen session the day before the regular season begins.

"He did well," Francona said about Perez's Saturday outing. "He had a long inning with a lot of foul balls and he threw 30 pitches. The good side of that is that he feels real good. We're going to give him an extra day just because he threw so many pitches. So he'll come back again on Tuesday."

Everything is falling into place perfectly with Perez on track and the bullpen roles being able to get defined. We've talked about it before, earlier this month and last year when it happened to him again. This bullpen is better with Perez at the back end. You know you will get someone who can close, who can be consistent and be that guy. It makes everyone's job a lot easier because it become predictable.

And when things are predictable for pitchers, that's when they can be in a routine, feel comfortable, and find their rhythm.

[DICE-K RELEASED, ROSTER COMES INTO FOCUS]

You can expect to see some decisions made by the Indians in the next day or two...

"Chris is coming back today and will get here about game time," Francona said. "We'll stay here after the game today and go over a lot of the stuff. I just told the players that we recognize it's the time of the spring where there's a lot anxiety. We'll do the best we can to make decisions as quickly as we can."

What's left? The fifth rotation spot, a few bench spots, and a few bullpen spots. 

Jason Giambi, Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Raburn, Cord Phelps, and Yan Gomes remain the candidates for bench jobs, if there are multiple ones up for grabs. Scott Kazmir or Carlos Carrasco will take a rotation spot, and the final bullpen spot, or spots could go to Nick Hagadone, Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, or David Huff.

Everyone, including the veteran Giambi is in the dark as to what the Indians will do. It's still unclear as to what the Tribe plans on doing about their pitching staff, because of the whole 13 straight games to open the season, it could get taxing on the pitching staff. You'd hate to make a pitching move right out of the gate, so that three man bench until a week in could come into play. If that's the case, someone like Giambi or Raburn could not make the club, but actually make the club, with that understanding in place.

That appears to be at-work in the releasing of Daisuke Matsuzaka from his minor league contract. It is likely that this is part of the Indians "renegotiating" with Scott Boras to keep Matsuzaka happy and still in the mix. So, he is not headed anywhere, with the Indians probably re-signing him rather quickly to a new deal.

[RANDOM RUNDOWN]

Chris Perez will be ready Opening Day and I would expect that both Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera will be too, despite their recent injuries.

Kipnis has been dealing with a sore elbow, while Cabrera missed Sunday's game with a sore back. The good thing is, this is just (general) soreness that the Indians seem overly worried about, in both cases.

"I don't think it's anything that's going to linger on for too much longer," Kipnis said on Friday afternoon. "I don't think it's that serious at all. We just have the luxury to rest right now, so we'll take advantage of it. During the season, I'd be in there still all the time, and I wouldn't have a problem with it."

It perhaps explains why Kipnis has not had much of a spring offense-wise. It also may not. Who really knows. Either way, he's resting in preparation for next week, not because he has to, but because he can. Kipnis did play on Sunday though, where as Asdrubal did not.

Cabrera's ailment is a little more fresh, but Francona says that he will take a few days off. He did it in the cages swinging and that it would be "silly" for him to have played through it. So, it really does seem like that to is more of a "better safe than sorry" type of a move for the Indians. 

And let's be honest, that's the middle of the defense, the teeth, those guys need to be ready to go. Take no chances, with either of them.

Some interesting starts by the starters this past week. Scott Kazmir went out in a 10-5 slugfest and surrendered five runs to the Mariners. The catch was that he threw nothing but fastballs in an effort to "strengthen" that pitch and get his pitch count up. Pitchers do it regularly in spring to establish command, so it's more of a reason to not buy into numbers, good or bad. 

Exhibit B in that is Ubaldo Jimenez, who went out on Sunday and pitched very very well. Numbers, be damned.

"I felt really good," Jimenez said. "I was able to be around the zone, attack the strike zone and get ahead most of the time. I feel like I'm ready for the season. I have a lot of confidence out there about throwing strikes. It doesn't matter if I fall behind in the count. I trust myself to come back in the count."

Francona said he was good and that he continued to build up his strength, which really was the only thing that matters. That's why his start was good. He got through seven, into the eighth and only walked one hitter. For someone who routinely has problems getting five good innings, the fact that he has built himself up to the point where he can get through seven without major issues is a huge plus at this point in spring.

What's even more encouraging from a hopeful fan perspective? Terry Pluto says that Jimenez's motion has changed and that he no longer, "looks like a man falling down a flight of stairs." Um, first off, ouch to what he used to look like. 

Pluto mentions that his pause is gone and he has regained better control of his body. You won't see the tantalizing fastball, but control? Yeah, that's good and that's what will help him be successful. So excellent observations from The Man.

In an odd and sort of mind-blowing unimportant observation, Luis Valbuena replaced Brent Lillibridge in center for the Cubs in that game on Sunday. Yes, that happened.

In more of a mind-blowing and ultimately unimportant observation, Ben Francisco may actually make the New York Yankees with all their injury issues going on. Francisco is hitting well, better than old Pronky Travis Hafner, as Terry Pluto notes. Well, I'll be.

Finally, big ups to my TCF bud Al C. on the huge get over at The DiaTribe. Al has been in Arizona for a week or so and he got to sit down, one-on-one, with Mark Shapiro for a lengthy interview. It's very interesting and eye-opening, and Shapiro is incredibly candid with all of Al's interesting questions. Well worth your time to read and digest.

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