Perez looks sharp in Cactus League debut

Perez looks sharp in Cactus League debut

Perez looks sharp in Cactus League debut
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The box score will show that Indians closer Chris Perez did appear in Thursday's game against the Rockies. That is good, because it would have been easy to miss actually seeing his swift performance.

Chris Perez needed only five pitches to breeze through his Cactus League debut, providing more evidence that he is indeed over the left oblique injury that ailed him early in camp. Against Colorado, the closer created three quick outs and headed on his way.

"I guess the scouting report says swing early on me," Perez said with a laugh. "It's good. I wanted to fill up the strike zone today and I did. I'll take that."

Perez induced a flyout down the right-field line off the bat of Chris Nelson, created a line to left field from Tyler Colvin and forced Brandon Wood to line out to third base. The closer threw four strikes in the fast appearance, which upped his pitch count to just 22 in his past three innings of work.

Perez threw in two Minor League games prior to Thursday's outing.

"They're not letting him get his work in," joked Acta, referring to Perez's low pitch count. "But that's a good sign. It means he's throwing strikes. He's around the strike zone. He's done the same thing down there in the Minor League games. Today he comes in here and five pitches later he's out of there.

"In a way, it's a good sign. I know the guys swing more often and early here in Spring Training, especially guys that are not veteran guys, but they were not swinging at balls that we're over their heads or anything like that. He feels good and he's going to continue to go out there. He's on pace to be ready for Opening Day."

Perez, who saved 36 games in 40 chances and made the American League All-Star team last season for the Indians, said he is feeling much stronger than he did at this time last year. Roughly two weeks before the end of camp a year ago, Perez hurt the pronator muscle in his right forearm while working on a changeup.

Perez believes that injury hindered him the entire season.

"It just stayed with me all year," Perez said. "I couldn't extend. My slider wasn't what it was two years ago. They put in play a lot more last year. But this year it's back to where it was. It's breaking a lot more, getting better depth.

"We scrapped the changeup and just went back to fastball, slider. I got better enough to throw, but I was fighting it all year. And, as a reliever, you don't have four days between outings. You're up every day."

Perez's velocity decreased by roughly 1 mph on both his fastball and slider last year and that altered how he approached hitters. He said he relied less on his slider when behind in the count out of fear of slipping into counts where batters would sit on his fastball. Perez posted a 3.32 ERA on the season, compared to a 1.71 mark in 2010

Now that he is feeling stronger, Perez plans on going back to the style he used two seasons ago.

"I feel confident in my fastball again, with the velocity again," Perez explained. "So if I am behind [in the count] 2-1 or 3-1, I feel like I can blow fastball by them, whereas last year they were making a lot more contact. I think it's going to make me mix it up a little bit more.

"I can throw a 2-0 slider, or a 2-1 slider when the hitter is expecting a fastball, and maybe get some bad contact that way. Last year I didn't really want to do that."

The current plan is to have Perez pitch in a game on Saturday and again on Monday. Then, when the Indians head to Zebulon, N.C., for an exhibition game against their Class A Carolina affiliate on Tuesday, Perez will throw a bullpen session to simulate pitching in back to back contests.

"I don't have that many outings to work on stuff," Perez said. "I need to get out there and get my stuff going pretty soon. Opening Day is a week from today."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.