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Smith makes spring debut for Indians

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Given the extended schedule this spring, the Indians never voiced major concern over Joe Smith's ability to be ready in time for Opening Day. Smith suffered a left abdominal injury early in camp, but had ample time to rest and recover.

On Tuesday, following three weeks of navigating a gradual throwing program, Smith took the mound against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium for his Cactus League debut. Thanks to the schedule-altering World Baseball Classic, Cleveland was able to take a conservative approach with Smith's comeback.

"Oh, yeah," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "This is almost like a regular Spring Training for him."

In his first official appearance of the spring, Smith threw 14 pitches, including 13 for strikes. The right-hander gave up two runs -- both on a home run by San Francisco's Brandon Crawford -- on two hits and ended with no walks or strikeouts. He induced one groundout off the bat of reigning National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey and two flyouts.

Francona emphasized before the game that the team would not stress over the results.

"We're just excited to watch him pitch," Francona said. "This is where you've got to remind yourself, even though we're two weeks into our games, this is his first game. He's just getting his feet wet. His progression is going to be a little bit slower."

Last season, the 28-year-old Smith went 7-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 72 appearances, helping earn a one-year contract worth $3.15 million to avoid arbitration over the winter. Over the past two years, Smith has gone 10-7 with a 2.49 ERA in 143 games. In 134 innings during that span, he has compiled 98 strikeouts against 46 walks.

As things currently stand, Smith is one of three locks -- closer Chris Perez and fellow setup man Vinnie Pestano being the others -- for Cleveland's Opening Day bullpen. Perez is currently sidelined with a right shoulder strain, but he might still be ready in time for the start of the regular season. If Perez's injury lingers, Smith is confident that the rest of the bullpen will hold down the fort.

"I think our depth is outstanding," Smith said. "We brought in a lot of guys who can pitch. I think we're going to have one of the best bullpens we've had since I've been here. From what I've heard, it sounds like C.P. is going to be ready come April. So we're not even putting that thought in our mind that he's not going to be out there.

"If he [isn't ready for Opening Day], then we need some guys to step up and get some outs until he's back."

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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