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Cleveland Indians

Westbrook enters home stretch

By Sheldon Published: June 9, 2009

CLEVELAND: Nothing against suburban Phoenix, but Jake Westbrook is happy to be gone from Arizona and the Indians' extended spring training program.

"I was there four months,'' he said Monday. "I glad to be out of there. My tan is good enough. Now, I get to see the guys and pitch under the lights.''

Just like the players in the big leagues. In case anyone has forgotten, Westbrook is a major-league pitcher. But he hasn't performed for the Tribe since May 28, 2008. Friday will be the one-year anniversary of surgery to reconstruct his right elbow.

Since then, life has been one long grind to get back to where he was before he got hurt. Now, Westbrook is getting close.

His first rehab session was last week, when he threw three innings (39 pitches for Akron). His next start, also for the Aeros, is scheduled for Thursday. His goal will be to throw four innings (about 65 pitches).

Five days after that, he will start for Columbus and throw four innings again, followed by at least one and maybe two more starts for the Clippers of at least five innings each.

If everything goes as planned, Westbrook should be activated from the disabled list before the end of the month.

"I feel strong, I feel good,'' he said. ""I've handled each step the way they wanted. I've tried not to get too overanxious.''

Westbrook is throwing all his pitches with 100 percent effort. Except for his pitch count, there are no restrictions on how he goes about his business on the mound.

"My fastball command is pretty good,'' he said. ""My off-speed command is not what I would like if I was pitching up here, but I have a few more starts to figure that out.

"My velocity has been good: normal if not a little better. I'm throwing in the low 90s, whidh is where I usually am.''

After Westbrook underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and transpose the ulnar nerve in 2002, he quit throwing bullpens between starts, which is common practice for most starters. He doesn't know if that will change.

"I think you get better by throwing bullpens,'' he said. ""But my arm felt better when I didn't. If my arm can handle it now, I'd love to go back to throwing between starts. But I'm used to not doing it, so I'm OK with that, too.''

SMITH RETURNS -- Joe Smith (right rotator cuff strain) was activated from the disabled list Tuesday and returned to the Indians' bullpen.

To make room for him on the roster, right-hander Tony Sipp was optioned to Columbus.

Smith was expected to be a mainstay among the relievers, a specialist in retiring right-handed batters because of his sidearm delivery. However, he hasn't pitched since late April, compiling a 7.11 earned-run average in eight appearances (61/3 innings). During a rehab assignment in Columbus, Smith pitched five times, allowing no runs in five innings.

Manager Eric Wedge feels he hasn't seen the ""real'' Smith yet, because of his injury.

"Not yet,'' Wedge said. ""He's been playing catchup from the beginning. We'll work him in gradually.

"We don't want to throw him right into the fire unless it's a necessity. For now, he'll probably pitch in the sixth and seventh innings. I don't see him in the eighth for awhile. ''

WRONG DIRECTION -- Jhonny Peralta was held out of the lineup because Brian Bannnister was the opposing pitcher for the Royals, and Peralta is still fighting a slump.

"Jhonny doesn't have numbers against this guy (2-for-17), and I wanted to give him another day,'' manager Eric Wedge said. ""He was working in the right direction, then it seemed to get away from him again.''

In his past three games, Peralta is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts and two double plays. He did not play Sunday against the White Sox.

ALL-STAR UPDATE -- Victor Martinez is the fifth-best vote getter among American League catchers in the latest All-Star ballotting. Martinez, with 535,575 votes, trails the leader, Joe Mauer, by more than 700,000 votes.

Grady Sizemore (451,839) is still 12th among outfielders. The top three are Jason Bay (1,101,649), Josh Hamilton (989,710) and Ichiro Suzuki (794,104).

FARM FACTS -- Michael Brantley doubled and singled in COlumbus' 5-4 loss to Gwinnett. Wyatt Toregas had three hits and one RBI... Donnie Webb had three hits and one RBI, and Abner Abreu had two hits and two RBI, but Lake County fell to Delmarva 8-7.

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