Inspired Indians poised to contend in 2012
On a cinder-block wall adjacent to the front entrance of the
Indians’ training complex, a large script ”I” has been replaced
this year by a block ”C,” which, of course, stands for
The Indians would like to believe it also symbolizes that
However, just being in the hunt or near the top won’t be enough
for closer Chris Perez, sporting a full beard and longer hair this
spring. He’s done with rebuilding, second-place and any talk about
waiting until next year.
Perez wants more for the Indians in 2012.
”We were contending last year,” he said Tuesday. ”Winning is
the word this year. I don’t want to compete. I want to win.”
Leave it to Perez to bring the early heat during the first week
of training camp under the getting-warmer-by-the-day Arizona sun.
The right-hander had 36 saves last season, but he couldn’t do
anything to stop the Indians’ late-season slide in the standings.
Cleveland’s surprising 30-15 start was followed by an equally
abrupt collapse as an avalanche of injuries overwhelmed the Indians
A summer of fun at Progressive Field became a bummer.
The Indians finished 15 games behind AL Central-champion Detroit
Tigers, the odds-on favorites to win the division again this year
after adding slugger Prince Fielder to an already potent
Looking back on 2011, Perez doesn’t remember the start as much
as the finish.
”It was fun last year while it lasted, but at the end of the
year I had a bitter taste in my month,” Perez said before going
outside to play catch. ”After the deadline, the Tigers kind of
took off and played at another level and we went the other way, but
they weren’t a better team than us in the first half. This year, we
don’t have any excuses.”
The Indians will hold their first official workout for pitchers
and catchers Wednesday, with the full squad set to take the field
for the first time Saturday.
On Tuesday, players, coaches and manager underwent
”Lots of blood,” manager Manny Acta said with a smile after
having some drained for tests. ”Maybe as the manager you have to
lead by example giving away that much. I thought it was a
The Indians certainly needed a lot of medical attention last
It seemed hardly a day went by without one of Cleveland’s
players being hurt. The Indians lost their entire starting outfield
to injuries, had two starting pitchers go down, used the disabled
list 22 times (second most in the AL) and had their four most
established hitters – Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore
and Asdrubal Cabrera – in the same lineup just 17 times all
”You try to do as much as you can to prevent them,” Perez
said, ”but we had so many that were just freak injuries. There’s
nothing you can do.”
The Indians are hoping both Sizemore, who re-signed with the
club as a free agent, and Choo can bounce back and have productive
years. Choo seemed to have rebounded from a slow start in 2011 when
he was hit on the thumb with a pitch, needed surgery and missed six
The club’s best player in 2010, Choo played in just 85
With so many key players sidelined, the Indians were forced to
dip into their minor leagues and bring up players who weren’t ready
for pennant-race pressure. The club’s lack of quality depth was
exposed. So, to guard against the problem recurring, Indians
general manager Chris Antonetti brought in 22 non-roster invitees
into camp, including 13 on minor league contracts.
With 62 players on the spring roster, the team ran out of
lockers in the clubhouse, forcing a few players to double up.
While there may be an abundance of players, there are only a few
Four spots in the rotation are taken by Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin
Masterson, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin, with the fifth open because
of legal problems involving the pitcher formerly known as Fausto
Carmona, arrested in the Dominican Republic on false identity
Carmona, whose real name is Roberto Hernandez, is on baseball’s
restricted list. The Indians don’t know when – or if – he will be
with them this season.
Acta has to fill two bullpen openings, pick between Jack
Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall as his starting third baseman and
decide on some bench roles. It’s a strong sign of progress, and a
credit to Cleveland’s front office, that the Indians don’t have a
long list of issues to address this spring – Acta’s third.
Acta believes the Indians have championship pieces. It’s now up
to him to see that they’re put together properly.
”We have some talent here,” he said. ”Our focus is to win.
When you are in a rebuilding process, you can see it from year to
year. We’re talented. It’s not a fluke when you spend as long as we
did in first place.”
Perez is counting on the Indians getting back to the top this
And this time, he thinks they can stay there. After all, the
Tigers haven’t won anything yet.
”Last year, we were right in it until the end, until
September,” he said. ”Who knows? If we keep our horses out there
all season, and our offense together all season, and our bullpen is
going to be as strong like it was last year, and Derek Lowe has a
bounce-back year, and Justin Masterson takes another step and
Ubaldo has a full year with us? We’re looking all right.
”And if it doesn’t, we weren’t supposed to win anyway,
Notes: INF Cristian Guzman took a physical and said he may sign
a minor league deal with the Indians on Wednesday. The 33-year-old
sat out last season with a sore right shoulder. He played in
Washington for Acta, who invited the two-time All-Star to camp.
”We have a good relationship,” said Guzman, who played for
Minnesota from 1999-2004. ”He called me. I told him I wanted to
keep playing and he said to come here and try to help the team. So
I said, `OK, I’ll go.”’ … The Indians traded LHP Kelvin De La
Cruz to Texas for cash. De La Cruz was designated on Feb. 13 to
make room for 1B Casey Kotchman. De La Cruz went 5-6 with a 4.19
ERA for Double-A Akron in 2011.