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12/16/09 6:29 PM EST

Westbrook ends winter ball pain-free

Indians counting on veteran to anchor young rotation

CLEVELAND -- Jake Westbrook passed his winter-ball exam, and that's good news for an Indians team that will be counting on the veteran right-hander to lead their rotation in 2010.

Westbrook, 18 months removed from Tommy John right elbow ligament replacement surgery, has completed his four-start stint with the Ponce team in the Puerto Rican Winter League. In those four starts, Westbrook posted four no-decisions with a 3.65 ERA. He allowed five earned runs and 15 hits, while walking six and striking out six in 12 1/3 innings.

Most importantly, Westbrook got through the experience pain-free. That was not a given, considering he had two medical setbacks that prevented him from pitching in the big leagues in '09.

The Indians were especially encouraged by Westbrook's final outing Tuesday night, when, with manager Manny Acta looking on, he held Mayaguez scoreless on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts over four innings.

"He felt good the whole way," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He found his stuff [Tuesday] night. He used all his pitches. It gives us and him greater peace of mind going into next year."

Acta has already declared that a healthy Westbrook would be the Tribe's Opening Day starter.

Now that the winter-ball stint is behind him, Westbrook will have what is considered a routine offseason conditioning program leading up to Spring Training.

Westbrook hasn't thrown a pitch in a Major League game since May 2008. In 197 career appearances with the Tribe since 2001, the 32-year-old right-hander has compiled a 63-62 record and 4.25 ERA. He is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $11 million in 2010.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.