GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are one step closer to getting back their closer.
On Friday morning, Chris Perez had his first bullpen session since straining his left side in his first bullpen of the spring on Feb. 23, and the 10-minute workout was deemed a success.
Perez said he eased his way into it but turned his fastball loose late in the session and didn't experience any problems.
"It felt good," said Perez, who saved a career-high 36 games in 2011, his first season as the team's full-time ninth-inning man. "I'm not 100 percent yet. I wouldn't expect to be. I felt like it was the first bullpen of Spring Training -- you know, kind of rusty, not hitting all my spots.
"But the side felt amazing. It felt better than I thought it would."
The plan for Perez is to throw another bullpen session on Sunday, which will be followed by a live batting practice session and then, if all goes well, his 2011 Cactus League debut.
Indians manager Manny Acta said a healthy closer would ideally get between 10 and 12 innings in a spring, but that Perez could still be ready for the beginning of the regular season even with only six or seven frames under his belt. Acta added that he liked what he saw from Perez on Friday.
"He put good effort into it and threw the ball very good with good life on his fastball," Acta said. "It's very encouraging to see him do that."
When asked if he could be ready to close on Opening Day with a limited spring workload, Perez laughed.
"I'm going to have to be," Perez said. "No other choice. But I really can't tell you a set number of outings [to be ready]. It's always different. Last year I was ready halfway through Spring Training. ... Two years ago I probably wasn't ready even when Opening Day came, but I figured out a way to get outs when it started.
"Hopefully this year I can get it all done within six or seven outings and be ready for Opening Day."
Six relievers in the mix for two spots
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Manny Acta has said all spring that there are two bullpen jobs open. And even on March 16, there are still six names in the mix.
Frank Herrmann, Nick Hagadone, Dan Wheeler, Chris Ray, Jeremy Accardo and Robinson Tejeda all have a chance to join the Tribe's relief corps, but so far it's been tough to tell whether two have separated themselves from the pack.
Hagadone and Accardo have the best numbers of the lot. Hagadone pitched a scoreless inning in Friday's game against the Angels and has a 1.50 ERA in six innings over five outings. Accardo has an ERA of 1.80 and four strikeouts in five innings. And even though Herrmann (7.50 ERA), Wheeler (18.00 ERA), Ray (14.40 ERA) and Tejeda (9.00 ERA with a calf injury) have struggled, according to the statistics, Acta doesn't seem to be putting too much stock in the numbers yet.
"I was anticipating that those guys would come in and make it a lot tougher on us, but it's only halfway through camp," Acta said.
"I think some of those guys, even if they're giving up runs, the report we've gotten out of the pitching coaches is that their pitches look crisper in the bullpen and it's just a matter of time. So we'll see.
"We go a lot [on quality of] stuff, and as the pitching coaches have said, they're getting crisper and better. So these two weeks are going to be key for them. Those are guys, none of them came into camp expecting to be sent down early anyway. So these last two weeks, it's a good competition."
Donald has edge in chase for bench role
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Manny Acta is looking for at least one player to step up and claim a bench role, and Jason Donald and Jose Lopez are still in the mix.
But Acta said Friday that Donald, who entered camp as a favorite for such a spot, remains in the driver's seat.
"I've been looking all Spring Training at that," Acta said. "Donald had a leg up because of the job he did last year. We're going to put him in the outfield and we're going to put him in some games at third base, probably, but he's got a leg up. Plain and simple."
That's not to say Lopez couldn't claim a spot, too.
The veteran infielder has some power and is batting .529 (9-for-17) with two homers and five RBIs this spring.
Acta said relievers Rafael Perez (left shoulder soreness) and Tejeda (strained right calf) are on the same timetable and should be ready to return within the week, but that both would probably pitch in Minor League games first.
First baseman Casey Kotchman (tightness in lower back) sat out another game Friday and hasn't played in a week, although he's still considered day to day.
Center fielder Felix Pie made a highlight-reel catch in Friday's game, making a long run to the warning track in left-center to rob Albert Pujols of extra bases.