GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's not unusual for some baseball people to blame the World Baseball Classic for everything from player injuries in February to global warming. Chris Perez is not one of them.
The Indians' closer was scheduled -- along with bullpen-mate Vinnie Pestano -- to pitch for Team USA in the first round of the WBC tournament that begins this week in downtown Phoenix.
Pestano will now have to go it alone, because Perez has been shut down with a strained right subscapularis (shoulder muscle) for at least three or four weeks. But Perez rejects any inference that the injury was a consequence of rushing his preparation so he would be ready to pitch for Team USA.
Asked how his offseason routine varied from the norm, Perez said Saturday, "I just started earlier. My throwing program wasn't much different. You try to limit your exposure to injuries but . . ."
In the end, Perez concluded that the only sure way to do that "is by not pitching."
A pedestrian might get hit by a car crossing the street, but if he needs to get on the other side, he has to take the risk.
Perez was looking forward to pitching in the WBC, which is by invitation only. But once he knew his injury was real . . . even before he received the MRI report -- he told manager Terry Francona that he would bypass the event.
"To this point in my career, that's the best honor I've had," Perez said. "I was looking forward to seeing some of the teammates I played with before and hanging out with them and obviously pitching for the country. I liked our team. I think we had a good chance to win and still do.
"At the same time, that's not my job. My job is to pitch for the Indians. It would be selfish of me to put my want to play in the Classic ahead of the Indians. My job is to get ready for the rest of the season."
Like all managers and general managers in charge of players that compete in the WBC, Francona has concerns. Is he comfortable when his players leave camp to play in the international tournament?
"No, but I don't think we should hold anybody back from playing unless it's for a medical reason," he said. "Chris wanted to play. When he got that first call, he was off the charts. So I appreciated his honesty in telling me (about the shoulder injury)."
Sometimes managers worry that their relief pitchers will get too little work in the WBC. Francona has a different fear.
"One thing I worry about -- and there's no way to do anything -- guys get ratcheted up to a higher level of competition. You're amped up quicker than you're supposed to be. I love the WBC, I wish there was a (better) time to do it. But there's no way to make it work."
So Perez will stay in camp, rest his shoulder for a week to 10 days, hoping that all the pain disappears. Once that happens, he can begin a throwing program: playing catch, long toss, bullpen sessions then games.
"Last year, I didn't pick up a ball for 2 1/2 weeks," said Perez, referring to a strained oblique that interrupted his spring training work. "This time it's only 10 days."
Perez realized that something might be wrong with his shoulder when he "felt a knot" playing catch Tuesday morning. He pitched an inning in the afternoon exhibition game and felt no pain, but on Wednesday the injury became evident to him.
"The next day I tried to play catch and it was too sore to throw," he said. "That's when I knew something was up."
Expectations are that Perez can resume his preparation for the season in a month or less, but that forecast is not carved in stone.
"We don't know," Perez said. "It's gotten better every day I've come in, noticeably better. As soon as I pick up a ball that first day, I'll have a better idea about the timetable."
Added Francona, "The best way to go about it is to not make an artificial deadline."
Perez wants to be ready to pitch when the season opens but if he isn't, he knows it's not the end of the world.
"There's no reason to push it to just get ready for April," he said. "I'm getting ready for a six-month season, hopefully a 7 1/2-month season."
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