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Indians make certain Lara stays

Indians make certain Lara stays

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A serious car accident in the Dominican Republic over the winter very likely robbed Juan Lara of any chance of pitching this season.

But Lara, a left-handed reliever who has been in the Indians organization since 1999, will still be financially supported by his club.

The Indians announced on Wednesday that although they have released Lara from their 40-man roster, they immediately re-signed him to a Minor League contract for 2008 so that he will continue to receive a paycheck for the length of the year. The team will also handle all of his medical expenses.

Lara was officially released on Monday and had to clear waivers before the club could sign him to the Minor League deal. His contract for 2008 is guaranteed. The exact value is not known, but it is believed to be nearly $100,000.

"This was really a unique circumstance," assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We felt it was the right thing to do for Juan. He's been part of the Indians family for a number of years, and we wanted to be sure we were there for him and his family. This will allow us to continue to manage his rehabilitation."

In the early hours of Nov. 25, Lara's SUV, stopped at an intersection in San Pedro de Macoris, was crushed on its driver's side by a speeding motorcycle. The motorcycle's driver was killed upon impact, and Lara sustained multiple life-threatening injuries -- severe brain trauma, a fractured spine, two broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken arm.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed surgeries on Lara's neck and left arm on Dec. 23. He is undergoing occupational therapy at Cleveland's Lutheran Hospital and is said to be progressing nicely.

"We remain hopeful that at some point he'll be able to pitch again," Antonetti said. "But it's important as a first step that he returns to normal activities. He's on his way toward that."

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Starter Fausto Carmona, a close friend of Lara's, has been in regular contact with him throughout Spring Training.

"When we talk," Carmona said through interpreter Dennis Malave last week, "he sounds really happy with the way he's doing right now."

Before the injury, Lara was one of the more promising relievers in the upper ranks of the Indians' Minor League system. He pitched in one game for the Tribe in 2007, working 1 1/3 innings against the Angels on Sept. 4. He spent the rest of the year at Triple-A Buffalo, where he went 4-3 with a 3.88 ERA and two saves in 52 appearances.

In September 2006, Lara, a product of the Indians' Dominican Academy, made his big league debut and pitched in nine games for the Indians, posting a 1.80 ERA.

The Indians, whose 40-man roster now stands at 39, could have handled this situation in a multitude of ways, including designating him for assignment or placing him on the 60-day disabled list.

"We felt this option puts Juan in the same place he would have been prior to the injury," Antonetti said. "We'll accommodate him the same way as if he was on an option in the Minor Leagues for us."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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