You know of course that the statistics don’t count. So let’s just pretend, then, that Luis Perez really hasn’t struck out nine, walked three and given up a pair of hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. That he’s one of 11 Toronto Blue Jays pitchers yet to give up an earned run.
Let’s just focus on the process. It’s not as if the 27-year-old left-handed reliever was an unknown commodity, because he showed an ability last season as a long man – nine of his 33 appearances lasted more than two innings – and his earned-run average in those was 1.54 and his ground-ball to flyball ratio of 2.28 was second among all qualifiers in the American League. But Perez came into spring training as one of six or seven pitchers vying for the final two spots in the Blue Jays’ revamped bullpen. The Blue Jays have no options left on Perez, so there was understandable concern.
That has gone. Perez has locked up a job, beating off minor-league worthies such as Evan Crawford and Joel Carreno and moving ahead of the likes of Aaron Laffey and Rick Vandenhurk. The bullpen battle is over; manager John Farrell won’t commit to Carlos Villanueva as the other winner, but the same sensibilities that deem Eric Thames as the incumbent in the left-field fight with Travis Snider must surely feel a sense of loyalty to Villanueva – who did yeoman’s work in several roles last season.
Perhaps the skipper’s reluctance is the Blue Jays could end up putting Villanueva on the disabled list, since he missed the early part of spring training with a circulatory issue in his hand.
Perez showed once again in Saturday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies why he has, in the words of Farrell, “pitched himself into a very valuable pitcher.” With starter Brandon Morrow at his pitch limit with one out in the fourth and two on, Perez came on and induced righty-swinging Carlos Ruiz to hit into a double play. He worked 2 2/3 innings, striking out Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino and walking two. It was Perez’s longest outing of the spring and the third time in five games he’d gone at least two innings.
This is what happens in Grapefruit League games. First inning, third or fourth a manager sees a regular-season simulation in front of him. For Perez to be the long lefty, he’s going to be able to, in Farrell’s words, “turn over the lineup and pitch multiple innings.” Righties hit .305 off Perez last season with 18 extra-base hits, more than twice the extra-bases lefties managed.
“Right now he’s as good as he was any time last season,” said Farrell, who has been talking up Perez since his bullpen sessions. “This spring, he’s using his change-up a little more frequently and with his fastball, it’s given him an ability to speed up their bats.”
But Saturday also presented Farrell with another glimpse into how far Perez has come. The fact it was an in-inning move meant Perez had to warm up as if it were a game situation. “He can get himself loose quickly,” noted Farrell. That’s not just manager-speak: typically, the role of the long man focuses on stabilizing a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.
And that’s how we roll in the spring, when even the bad has a silver lining. Morrow’s fastball command was iffy, so he found himself in frequent hitter’s counts. A perfect chance to use his change-up. Brett Lawrie will be sidelined for what Farrell said would be “multiple days,” because of the groin strain he sustained Friday. So don’t be surprised to see Edwin Encarnacion
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