By Mike Steffanos
Oliver Perez began the exhibition season by going Nuke LaLoosh on a photographer during warm-ups, and it didn't get a lot better once the game began. Based on what I've seen in the comments on this web site, Perez is the player in camp this spring that inspires the strongest opinions in fans. My Mom, for instance, although loyally supporting my view that Perez can be a decent starter for the Mets this season, was none too happy with yesterday's performance against what was essentially a B-squad of Detroit Tigers. Another couple of starts like yesterday's from Mr. Perez and my Mom will forget that I'm her son and just regard me as the dumb-ass that told her this schmuck can pitch.
Not surprisingly, Ollie earned himself a lot of ink in today's paper. Both Rick Peterson and Paul Lo Duca both opined that the start wasn't quite as bad as it looked, citing the 27 strikes he threw in his 38-pitch outing. I watched Perez' two innings twice last night, and while he was indeed throwing the majority over the plate, he missed badly with many of them. Perez admitted to having trouble with his front shoulder flying open, and that was an accurate assessment of his problems. This flaw stops him from finishing through his pitches, with the result that many were in that belt-high area that's sure to inflate a pitcher's ERA and homeruns against totals. Also, both his slider and fastball tend to flatten out, making the pitches even easier to hit. Frankly, if the Tigers had their full lineup there it could have been worse. Perez actually got away with some mistakes.
But Mom, I swear this doesn't mean that it's hopeless. It's a timing issue, and it results in Perez falling off hard to the third base side before he can finish his pitch with the wrist snap that helps the pitcher keeps the ball down in the strike zone and gives the ball that extra torque and movement that's the difference between a pitch that's flat and one that bites.
If you've tossed a Frisbee around, you've probably noticed that your toss travels much further when you get a strong tight spin on your Frisbee. If you fail to get that snap and try to muscle it with your arm, the disc doesn't travel nearly as far and you don't really know where it's going. It's timing and technique, not strength, that separates the good throws from the bad.
As a fan, I'm less concerned that Perez nailed a photographer than the fact that he was out of synch and leaving so many mistakes up in the zone. We hear that Perez is trying to develop a changeup to be more effective against right-handed batters, and that's a great idea, but it's essential that he comes out of camp with a reasonable facsimile of a balanced delivery and the ability to repeat it. If Peterson can't accomplish this with the young leftie then everything else is just window dressing.
I'm not dismayed that Perez struggled in his first spring outing. I was pretty much expecting it. If, by the end of camp, his mechanics still look like they did yesterday, I don't give him much chance of helping this club. On the other hand, if you can get him fairly consistent in his delivery by the end of camp you should see a real jump in his game. Everything else should fall into place and my Mom will still think that I'm smart.