Perez Has Been a Big Surprise, Even Bigger Boost, For Tribe Bullpen

The first half of this baseball season was a long, strange journey for veteran left-handed reliever Oliver Perez. The Cleveland Indians could not be any happier that the second half of this campaign has seen him settle in quite nicely to the Tribe’s bullpen.

Perez got caught up in last offseason’s winter freeze as many solid veteran players had trouble finding quality jobs and contracts. The journeyman, now in his 16th big league season, settled for a minor league contract with the New York Yankees on March 31 after being a camp casualty in Cincinnati. Spring training had just ended and Perez wanted an opportunity to prove that he could still pitch, even with his 37th birthday creeping up later in the playing schedule (this past August 15).

Realizing that the Bronx Bombers had arguably the best relief corp in the game, Perez wisely had an out clause in his contract. He could go back on the free agent market if not on the Yankees roster by June 1. New York never called him, as the Yankees bullpen was as good as advertised. Perez made 16 appearances at the Triple-A level, covering 14 innings, where he toted a solid 2.57 ERA. He opted into free agency on June 1.

The Indians, whose ‘pen was a wreck at that time, jumped all over the chance to add a reliever with a pretty good history. He had not been great the last three seasons, which was part of why he had trouble finding work as a free agent during the offseason.

In 2017, Perez sported a 4.64 ERA and that was actually slightly better to the forgettable 4.95 ERA he carried in 2016. His best campaign in the previous three seasons had been 2015 when he had a still-unspectacular 4.17 ERA. That three-year stretch followed a three-year stretch in which he was one of the game’s better matchup lefties. From 2012-2014, his ERAs were 2.12, 3.74, and 2.91.

Perhaps, going into his late 30s, Ollie was slowing down. Still, the Indians, with a ‘pen ravaged by injuries and veterans having down years, were desperate enough to try and catch lightning in a bottle.

That bottle is now full. Perez has been even better with the Tribe than he was during his three-year stretch of good pitching. Actually, make that MUCH better. Entering the weekend, Perez has appeared in 39 games, tossing 24.1 innings for the Tribe. He has been used mostly as a situational lefty. He has allowed a grand total of three earned runs, which is good for an eye-popping 1.11 ERA. Talk about a guy proving he still has something left in the tank, and then some.

Perez has been a Godsend for manager Terry Francona and the Indians. With superstar lefty Andrew Miller having been hurt for the majority of this season and fellow southpaw Tyler Olson struggling for much of the year, Perez has been a huge add to the Cleveland ‘pen. With the usually-dependable closer Cody Allen struggling and other veteran relievers like Dan Otero and Josh Tomlin having issues keeping the ball in the park, Perez has become one of Tito’s most trusted relievers. Perez and trade-deadline acquistion, All-Star Brad Hand, have been the two Cleveland relievers who have not been hit hard at any point this season. Perez has combined with Hand to save the ‘pen from wreckage and from sinking what should be a fun-filled October.

When the Indians quickly scooped Perez one day after he split with the Yankees, they only hoped to find a little bit of dependability from a reliever. Instead, they found a guy who has been nearly lights out. The signing could not have turned out any better for the Tribe or Perez, as the veteran lefty now has a good chance to be a big help in the playoffs. In a matter of months, he went from a guy wondering if he would ever have another Major League job to a guy who is going to go into the postseason as one of the Indians’ more important relief arms.

Perez may have been frozen out of a job this winter, but he is in great shape in so many ways now. Thanks to him, the Tribe bullpen has been in far better shape (though still far from perfect) than it was back in May. He has really helped to stabilize the one area of the team that Cleveland once could not figure out at all.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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