CLEVELAND - Zach McAllister's fragile finger has passed another vital stress test.
Cleveland's starting pitcher threw a three-inning simulated game without any issues to minor league hitters on Monday, a significant step in his recovery from a sprained middle finger that has sidelined him for the past month.
McAllister threw fastballs and change-ups to five players from the Indians' Lake County (A) affiliate before Cleveland hosted Detroit in the finale of a four-game series against the AL Central leaders.
"I was really happy with it," said McAllister, who has been on the disabled list since June 8. "Everything came out the way I wanted it to, and it was nice to be able to see some hitters again."
Indians manager Terry Francona was also pleased with McAllister's outing, which was closely watched by Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and trainer Lonnie Soloff. Francona said McAllister threw without feeling any symptoms of the injury, which the team believes occurred when the right-hander was throwing curve balls.
McAllister will throw breaking balls on flat ground again Tuesday, and as long as there are no setbacks, the Indians will decide on the next step in his rehab.
Francona said McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA) will either throw another simulated or make a minor league rehab appearance. It's possible the 26-year-old, who won six games as a rookie in 2012, could rejoin Cleveland's rotation after the All-Star break.
Francona said he has no doubt McAllister is being honest with the Indians about his injury.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "To the point where I think he wants to choke one of us. The way he threw the ball tells you, too."
Francona said the Indians are continually monitoring McAllister to make sure he's pitching without any pain.
"He's so tired of us asking him," Francona said. "We ask him about every 10 minutes. There's times I'll walk down to him during the game and say something. He knows that if he gets through this and it goes away, he's going to be fine. But he also knows that this is something not to mess around with. He's been really good."
The Indians are being extra cautious with McAllister following their experience with major finger injuries to right-handers Adam Miller and Alex White.
Francona said McAllister has handled the injury as well as could be expected.
"Unbelievably outstanding," Francona said. "That's probably not grammatically correct, but that's how I feel. He is like a sponge anyway, and he's been out there for every inning of every game. He has worked hard on every other aspect -- conditioning, strength. He's the kind of kid we think we can get better with."
While he waits for McAllister's return, Francona has decided to shuffle his bullpen.
Struggling setup man Vinnie Pestano is temporarily being taken out of his eighth inning role to let him regain his confidence. He'll be replaced by Joe Smith, who usually pitches the seventh inning.
Pestano hasn't been himself all season. He's 1-2 with a 4.71 ERA in 29 appearances, many of which have been shaky. He has not had his usual velocity or command of his pitches and spent time on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
"Since he's come back from down time with his arm, we've seen some glimpses of the old Vinnie but there have been some inconsistencies," Francona said. "I told him that in the immediate future, instead of just giving him the eighth inning every time, we'll try to pitch him in games that set up a little better for him. We want to get that confidence rolling.
"Once he gets back on a roll, we'll get him back in a designated role."
Francona said Pestano is OK physically but he's not finishing his pitches the way he has in the past. Once Pestano gets back in a groove, Francona made it clear the eighth inning would be his again.
"When he's in the eighth inning and pitching well, that's our best team," Francona said. "At the moment, we probably have to do something different."