GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians could have their closer back on a mound by this weekend. All-Star Chris Perez has advanced through the early stages of his throwing program with no issues in his right shoulder, making it possible that he could throw in a bullpen session by Saturday.
Indians manager Terry Francona has been pleased with Perez's progress to this point.
"He's doing a good job," Francona said on Thursday morning. "He's pretty excited. We've got to kind of keep an eye on it. It's good. He's feeling really good about himself."
Perez played catch on Thursday morning, marking his second consecutive day of throwing. The right-hander is scheduled to rest on Friday, but could be cleared by Cleveland's medical team to resume pitching off a mound on the following day. Francona said it would be a brief mound session of approximately 10 pitches.
"It's certainly not ramping up," Francona said. "But it's another progression."
Perez suffered a right shoulder strain in his one-inning appearance against the Royals on Feb. 26. The Indians initially indicated that the 27-year-old closer would need at least three weeks before returning to game activity. A typical throwing progression includes a handful of bullpen sessions, live batting practice and simulated game action prior to working in games.
The Indians have not ruled Perez out for Opening Day, but Francona has made it clear that there is no "artificial deadline" for the pitcher's potential return date. If Perez is unable to join the Tribe for its April 2 season opener in Toronto, setup man Vinnie Pestano would be in line to serve as the team's temporary closer.
Last season, Perez saved 39 games, had a 3.59 ERA in 61 appearances and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team for the second straight year. Over the past three years, Perez ranks fifth in the Majors in saves (98) and save percentage (89.1). He signed a one-year, $7.3 million contract this past winter to avoid arbitration.
During Spring Training a year ago, Perez suffered an oblique injury in his first bullpen session and was sidelined from Cactus League action until March 29. The closer logged only three official innings in three appearances and was cleared to join the Opening Day roster.