CLEVELAND — The Indians are losing a late-inning left-hander in the bullpen. Fortunately for them, they have another one healthy and pitching well enough to fill his role.
Cleveland placed Aaron Fultz on the disabled list Wednesday with a strained muscle in his right rib cage, expecting the veteran reliever to return the day after the All-Star break. The Indians already have a more than adequate replacement pitching out of their bullpen in Rafael Perez, who has emerged as one of Cleveland’s most effective relievers in two stints on the big league level this season.
In 10 appearances through Tuesday, Perez had posted a 0.87 ERA, allowing two earned runs and 13 hits, while striking out 25 batters in 202/3 innings. He is expected to see more action late in the game with Fultz on the shelf.
“His progress has been steady, it’s been consistent,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge of the 24-year-old Perez, who made his major league debut for Cleveland last year, appearing in 18 games. “He’s shown a lot of composure. He’s handled everything well.”
Perez, a starter for the majority of his five-year professional career, began the season in Triple-A Buffalo’s rotation before being promoted and converted back to relief work.
“I’m feeling comfortable,” Perez said. “I want to pitch even more, three or four innings (a game).”
Fultz (3-1, 1.71 ERA in 32 games) felt discomfort in his side while warming up before his last outing Friday at Washington.
“I can throw,” said Fultz. “I just can’t get into position to put anything on it.”
Needing Fultz for the long haul, the Indians chose the cautious approach.
“We’ve got to make sure we have him throughout the course of the year, so we’re going to take it easy now,” Wedge said.
To fill Fultz’s roster spot, the Indians promoted Edward Mujica from Buffalo for his third stint with the team.
A slow Trot
Wedge isn’t giving up on struggling outfielder Trot Nixon, who is hitting.148 (8-for-54) with four RBIs in 20 games this month, to lower his season average to .239. Nixon is coming off back surgery in the offseason, which could be contributing to a slide that has seen him go without a home run since May 1.
“Physically, I think that’s a question you have to ask Trot,” Wedge said. “Having the work that he had, it’s obviously going to take some time.
“He’s shown signs. He’s hit some balls hard. I think he’s going to continue to get better.”
The emergence of Franklin Gutierrez isn’t helping Nixon’s cause. Gutierrez, who started in place of Nixon in right field on Wednesday, entered the game with hits in six of his last seven games, batting .400 (10-for-25) with a homer and three RBIs over the span.
According to Cleveland’s head trainer, Lonnie Soloff, outfielder David Dellucci, who will miss eight weeks once he undergoes surgery on his left hamstring, will have a torn tendon in the hamstring removed during the procedure.
Soloff said Buffalo reliever Matt Miller (strained forearm), who was placed on the disabled list to clear room for Adam Miller on the roster, had a minor injury and would return to the Bisons’ bullpen soon.
Cliff Politte, who is attempting to come back from shoulder surgery and recently experienced a minor setback, has begun throwing in the bullpen and is expected to be activated for Double-A Akron within a week.
All six of the Indians’ minor league affiliates — Buffalo, Akron, Single-A Kinston, Single-A Lake County, Class A Mahoning Valley and the Gulf Coast League Indians — entered Wednesday with at least a share of first place, owning an American League-leading combined record of 192-144 (.571).
* Buffalo’s Jeremy Sowers lost for the second time in three starts Tuesday, allowing five runs on nine hits (two homers) in 71/3 innings of the Bisons’ 5-0 loss to Scranton.
Kelly Shoppach’s three-run walk-off homer Tuesday was the first by an Indians’ pinch hitter since Eddie Murray connected off Twins reliever Eddie Guardado on July 18, 1996.
* Cleveland, which went 35-40 against the Central Division last year, entered Wednesday with a 17-7 record against division foes.
* LSU defensive coordinator and former Ohio State defensive back, Bo Pelini, a friend of Indians pitcher Paul Byrd and strength and conditioning coach Tim Maxey, was in attendance Wednesday night.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.