WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- If a good time for a starting pitcher to get hurt exists, it's this stage of Spring Training, when the season is still in diapers. For that reason, the Indians aren't sweating a right abdominal strain suffered by left-hander Cliff Lee. Not yet, anyway. Lee has been scratched from his scheduled start against the Phillies on Friday because of the injury, which, as described by head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff and manager Eric Wedge on Thursday, has not yet reached the "serious" stage.
"We'll list him as day to day," Soloff said. "We'll shut him down for three days, he'll be retested, and we'll resume baseball activity at that time, if he's asymptomatic." According to Soloff, Lee first felt the symptoms of the strain last Saturday. Lee informed the club of the pain he was feeling, but it didn't keep him from participating in workouts and bullpen sessions. The last of those bullpens came Wednesday, and the condition flared up a bit. But Lee was still able to complete the session. "He finished his bullpen, and it didn't affect his delivery," Wedge said. "But obviously, we're going to be cautious with it." The Indians are no strangers to dealing with such injuries. Left-hander C.C. Sabathia has suffered a strain in his right oblique in each of the last two seasons. Last year, it cost him virtually the entire month of April. Soloff said he is prohibited by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and HIPAA regulations from comparing Lee's injury to Sabathia's. He did, however, say this injury does not appear to be at all related to the lower abdominal strain and sports hernia Lee suffered in 2003. That injury kept Lee on the disabled list for the first two months of the season, but he has logged at least 32 starts in every season since. In large part because of his durability, the Indians signed Lee to a three-year, $14 million contract extension last summer. He finished '06 with a 14-11 record and 4.40 ERA in 33 starts. For now, the Tribe is optimistic this injury won't affect Lee in '07. "That's one of the luxuries of camp is we have two or three days [to shut Lee down]," Wedge said. "Hopefully, we'll knock [the injury] out of there." In the meantime, right-hander Fausto Carmona, slated to be the club's sixth starter and first rotation option in the event of injury or lack of performance this season, will get an early shot to fulfill his role, as he'll be Lee's replacement Friday. Getting defensive: One inning into Grapefruit League play, shortstop Jhonny Peralta made those offseason workouts to improve his range look effective. Peralta jump-started an impressive double play in the second inning of Thursday's exhibition opener against the Astros. Jason Lane hit a grounder to the shortstop's far right side, and Peralta did a nice job of getting to it deep in the infield and making a quick throw to second baseman Josh Barfield. "That's what [the Indians] want to see," Peralta said. "I have to show them I'm quicker." Wedge noticed.
"That was outstanding," Wedge said of the play. "He had a good jump on the ball and got on it quick." Peralta spent the offseason working out in the Dominican Republic and at Jacobs Field. The main goal was to improve his leg strength so he could more quickly get to balls. "My legs feel stronger," he said. "When you feel you have strength in your legs, you can move better." Getting by with a little help: It's arguable that no Indians pitcher has a more vested interest in Peralta's improvement and the improvement of the Indians infield defense, as a whole, than Jake Westbrook. The sinkerball-throwing, groundball-inducing Westbrook, who started Thursday's game, is especially dependant on that defense to back him up, and he was certainly happy with the double play turned behind him. "[Peralta] went a long way to start that DP, and Barfield did a good job making the turn," Westbrook said. "That's all I want is for guys to bust their tails after everything and to give me a chance." Been around the block: It's good to have friends in high places, as Alan Zinter can attest. The 39-year-old Zinter was signed to a Minor League contract by the Indians this winter after an endorsement from Wedge. Both Zinter and Wedge began their professional playing careers in 1989, when Zinter was a first-round pick by the Mets and Wedge was a third-round selection by the Red Sox, and they played together in the Arizona Fall League in 1993. The Indians are Zinter's eight organization, and when he reports to Triple-A Buffalo, it will be the 13th Minor League affiliate he's suited up for. He also played two years in Japan and a combined 67 games in the bigs for the Astros and Diamondbacks. "I consider myself Major League insurance," Zinter said. "I'm ready to do whatever they need." The Indians needed Zinter as an extra body for Thursday's game, and the first baseman came through with a two-run single and a long flyout that was caught at the center-field wall. Hit machine: Ryan Garko picked up right where he left off last season, coming through with a pair of hits and an RBI in Thursday's game. Though they're testing his defensive aptitude at first base, the Indians have no qualms about Garko's bat, which fit in nicely in the cleanup spot at the end of '06. "He's ready to hit every pitch," Wedge said. "He recognizes a good pitch, and he recognizes a tough pitch. He's strong, and he puts the barrel on the ball." On deck: The road portion of the Tribe's Grapefruit League slate begins Friday, when the club travels to Clearwater for the 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Phillies. Carmona will get the start opposite right-hander Brett Myers. Rafael Betancourt, Aaron Fultz, Jason Davis, Matt Miller, Fernando Cabrera, Tom Mastny and Juan Lara will also be available to pitch. There is no scheduled broadcast of the game.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.