CLEVELAND: Once the subject of a manager's job security is broached publicly, the story tends to take on a life of its own.
After the Indians' loss to the Tigers Sunday, two players were asked whether manager Eric Wedge should be taking heat for the team's ugly start. Both players, Victor Martinez and Mark DeRosa, emphatically said the players should take the blame, not the manager.
When Wedge was told that Monday, he said, ""I'm the manager, so it's my fault. I'm not out there playing, but it's my responsibility. I try and stay out of their way when things are going well, and I take full responsibility when they're not. I have thick skin and broad shoulders. Of course, these guys have to do better.''
So Wedge taking accountability in no way takes the players off the hook.
They are the only ones who can turn the season around, whether the manager's job is on the line or not.
Addressing whether he feels any pressure to hang onto his position, Wedge said, ""That's not something I spend any time thinking about. I recognize where we are as a ballclub, and my entire energy goes into getting these guys back on track. I don't spend time thinking about that (getting fired). It comes with the territory.''
Wedge admitted that he has just about exhausted the bag of psychological tricks he uses to maintain an upbeat and energetic attitude in the clubhouse.
"Every team is different,'' he said. ""You have to push everybody, kick every tire, turn over every stone. But these guys have to go out and do it. Our job is to help them do it, and that's what we're (the coaching staff) trying to do.
"If these guys can figure it out and we have a good week, we're right back in the middle of the division race. But it has to start now, tonight. I'm not saying that we can't do it if we don't win tonight, but our mindset has to be now.''
Most of Wedge's efforts have gone into keeping the team's confidence high, but he also has resorted to harsher methods.
"I've tried to be positive and supportive,'' he said. ""But at some point, you have to go the other way, and I've already done that.''
Wedge brought up the fact that the media seemed anxious that rookie outfielder Matt LaPorta hadn't been in the lineup since Thursday.
"One of the reasons I sent the regulars out there is that after they had their (Saturday night) meeting, I wanted to give the (veterans) a chance to do something,'' the manager said. ""But obviously, there wasn't much there (on Sunday).''
Wedge indicated that the regulars no longer will get a free pass.
"We're having LaPorta take more ground balls at first base,'' the manager said. ""We want that to be an option for us.''
HEALTH UPDATES -- Jake Westbrook (Tommy John surgery) threw a simulated game for the first time Monday, delivering 20 pitches with no ill effects.
"He will throw again Friday then increase his pitches by roughly 15 each week (or one inning),'' head trainer Lonnie Soloff said. ""The timing of his rehab assignment hasn't been determined, but historically it probably would be after he gets up to four innings or 65 pitches.''
Westbrook is expected to rejoin the rotation in mid to late June.
Travis Hafner (sore shoulder) took early batting practice Monday and ""did really well,'' according to Soloff.
After he takes batting practice today and Wednesday, he is expected to go on a rehab assignment to Columbus on Friday for an undetermined number of games.
Jamey Carroll (hand fracture) spent the fourth day of his rehab assignment at Triple-A on Monday, but he isn't expected to remain there much longer.
"We're probably looking at another day or two for him,'' Wedge said of the utility player.
Joe Smith (right rotator cuff strain) played catch on Monday from 60 feet and will move to 75 today. He is believed to be 10-14 days from going on a rehab assignment.
Scott Lewis (strained left elbow) had a setback about a week ago and is began his long toss program from 60 feet all over again Monday.
"He has not progressed at a predictable rate,'' Soloff said. ""He was out to 120 feet and was working off the mound, but his mound session was not comfortable.''
STILL THINKING -- Veteran reliever Luis Vizcaino is still hanging around, but the Indians say they haven't signed him.
"We're going to have him throw for us again tomorrow and go from there,'' Wedge said. ""We are taking a look at him and deciding where to send him -- either to keep him here or send him out (to Triple-A).''
NEW ADDITION -- The Tribe has signed 31-year-old right-handed reliever Blaine Neal to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Columbus.
Neal has not pitched in the big leagues since 2005, when he worked in the bullpens of the Red Sox and Rockies. Last year at Triple-A Toledo (Tigers affiliate), he compiled a 1-0 record, 26 saves and 1.21 earned-run average in 38 appearances.
FARM FACTS -- Wes Hodges hit his first home run of the season and had three RBI in Columbus' 4-1 win over Pawtucket. Michael Aubrey had two hits to raise his average to .395, and Zach Jackson (1-2, 5.84 ERA) gave up one run and two hits in five innings... Lonnie Chisenhall homered and singled, driving in one run, but Kinston lost 5-1 to Myrtle Beach. Chisenhall was named Carolina League Batter of the Week for hitting .533 with two homers and 12 runs. Chisenhall has won the honor twice this season. Matt McBride's 23-game hitting streak was snapped in the game, but he still is batting .405...Karexon Sanchez and Nate Recknagel homered and singled, each driving in two runs, in Lake County's 9-0 rout of Kannapolis. T.J. McFarland (1-2, 4.71 ERA) worked six scoreless innings, giving up three hits.