It is tough to blame the collapse of a bullpen on any one man, but lefty reliever Rafael Perez did everything he could last season to get the collective finger pointed his way. Featuring some time in Columbus, Perez was abysmal last season with the Indians with a 7.31 ERA in 54 appearances thanks to a 1.068 OPS from opposing left-handed hitters. Now in the Dominican Republic for some much-needed winter ball, Perez is dominating the opposition with an ERA of 0.33.
As a starter.
Through six starts, Perez is 3-0. He has allowed only 14 hits through 27 innings of work, walking 10 batters and striking out 25. Once merely unhittable, Perez could not locate any of his pitches last season – and when he did, they were hit very, very hard. With a slider as brutal as Perez’s, the fact that he was dominated by left-handers was almost inexplicable.
Perez was a starter before the Indians opted to use his ability to miss bats out of the ‘pen in 2006, but do not go into the 2010 season thinking that “Rafy Left” will be joining the ace arms of Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson in the starting rotation. Though the Indians starting arms are arguably one of the worst in all of baseball, Perez will be amongst those getting late-inning work out of the bullpen mostly due to his inability to pitch a large amount of innings in a given season.
“We thought it would be beneficial for him to get some more work,” general manager Mark Shapiro said. “We thought it was a good idea for him to extend himself, and [starting] would provide him with the best opportunity to lock in innings and mechanics.”
While the Indians are not looking to be the most competitive team in 2010, they will need Perez to get back into 2007 form where he had an ERA of 1.79 with 86 strikeouts in 76 innings.