Besides the late-inning trio, Cleveland's Opening Day bullpen will include right-handers Cody Allen, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw and lefties Rich Hill and Nick Hagadone. Francona mentioned Hill as a candidate for high-leverage situations against left-handed hitters, and said the rest of the arms will likely be mixed and matched based on in-game developments.
What the Indians are trying to accomplish is improving the performance of their middle-relief group. Last season, Perez, Pestano and Smith combined for a 3.01 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), but the rest of the 'pen posted a 4.56 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP, which gave the Tribe the American League's 13th-ranked bullpen ERA (3.99) as a whole.
The Indians are currently carrying eight relievers, but will likely revert to a traditional seven-man bullpen when left-handed starter Scott Kazmir is added to the active roster to serve as the team's fifth starter on Saturday. The relievers who have Minor League options -- including Allen, Shaw and Hagadone -- are most vulnerable for a trip back to Triple-A.
"That'll be a hard one, because I like the idea of going with eight," Francona said. "Every manager probably feels that way. We don't have a typical long [reliever], and that's by choice. We have guys that we feel all have strengths."
Cleveland is confident that the combination of Perez, Pestano and Smith will once again provide a solid anchor for the staff. Last season, when the Indians lost 94 games, the club went 52-8 in games in which it held a lead after six innings, and posted a 24-12 record in one-run contests.
"In one-run games, they still had one of the best records in baseball," Francona said. "That says a lot about them. There's a lot of times where, if you get to a bullpen before you want to, you struggle. I'm hoping that's not the case here."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.