Perez Must Stabilize Back End Of The Bullpen


Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who need to have a break out season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.

By Mike Brandyberry

It is hard to be in need of a breakout season when you just completed your first year as an All-Star, but that’s where Chris Perez finds himself. Perez, regarded as the Godfather of the Bullpen Mafia, needs to assert himself as the leader of the bullpen, giving all others the ability to settle into their roles.

Perez became the full-time closer for the Tribe at the trade deadline in 2010 when Kerry Wood was traded. He saved 23 games that season, filling in for Wood when he was injured, then taking the role for the final two months. But 2011 was Perez’s first full season as the Tribe closer. After a very dominant first half, Perez was rewarded with a spot on the American League All-Star team. Despite a second half that brought him back to earth a bit, he still finished the season 4-7 with a 3.32 ERA and 36 saves.

His struggles in the second half were not a product of blown saves—he only had six for the entire season—but his inability to pitch in tie games or non-save situations. Too many times was Perez brought in to tie games in the ninth or tenth inning and could not hold the lead for the offense to score. It is custom that the home team bring their closer into a tie game since there is no save possible in the game. Teams usually hope their closer can hold the game for an inning or two so that the offense can score and win the game. Manager Manny Acta has been clear to state those situations are part of Perez’s job and he must improve in that role. Acta will not back away from putting him in that situation.

However, this spring Perez has not got off to a good start. In his first bullpen session during Spring Training he threw too hard, too fast and strained an oblique. The injury takes between four to six weeks to recover from, but Perez has recovered in about four weeks. He told us earlier this week that he has felt good and anticipates pitching in an exhibition game as early as today. His goal is to now get into about six of seven games before the team breaks camp. If he can get that much work and be healthy, Perez feels he can start the season in the Tribe’s bullpen as the closer.

If Perez remains healthy and is able to close games beginning April 5, the roles in the bullpen become more definite and stable. Pitchers will not have to change roles weeks into the season and the bullpen will be able to settle in immediately. Perez anchoring the back end of the bullpen is the first step to a dominant pen, something synonymous with any Indians playoff team.

Photo: Associated Press

Be sure to vote for Did The Tribe Win Last Night in Cleveland Magazine’s Blog Bracket Challenge this week. Voting is open until 5 pm on Friday.

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