Indians closer Chris Perez lost his late-inning role. He kept his spot on Cleveland’s wild-card roster anyway.
Manager Terry Francona said he did not consider leaving the struggling Perez off the team’s 25-man roster for Wednesday night’s winner-take-all game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Perez was stripped of his closer’s job last week after he gave up six runs — including two ninth-inning homers — in two outings when the Indians couldn’t afford to lose as they battled Tampa Bay and Texas for the AL wild-card lead. But despite his shakiness, Perez, who had 25 saves this season, was one 10 relievers in the bullpen against the Rays.
And Francona said it was possible the right-hander would pitch — if the game dictates that.
"It wasn’t a tough decision," Francona said. "You don’t know how a game is going to go, whether it’s nine, 10, 11, 12 innings, and given the right situation, he could find his way into a game. He’s got 20-something saves. He’s run into some tough outings lately, but he threw the last day in Minnesota, he came and threw in a simulated game on Monday here.
"He’s done everything with the right attitude. So I think we wanted to put him on."
While Perez is on the roster for the wild-card game, there’s no guarantee he’ll be on it if the Indians advance to the division series against Boston.
Francona planned to use a closer-by-committee approach against Tampa Bay. Joe Smith, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw could all be used to get the final three outs.
Francona said part of his decision was based on allegiance to a player who has performed at a high level for most of the past four seasons.
"You try to have a loyalty to everybody," he said. "You want every player on the team to know you care about them. At the same time, you make decisions that are best for the team, and while you’re doing that you try to make sure players understand you care about them. But you make decisions to win."
Perez’s struggles weren’t isolated to the final week. The two-time All-Star has a 7.52 ERA since Aug. 1. He also became a distraction when he was arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. Perez did not speak with reporters for three months before breaking his silence Sunday after the Indians clinched a playoff spot.
Francona clarified that Perez did not tell him he didn’t want to pitch last week. Francona said Perez informed him that he didn’t want to hurt the team more than he already had down the stretch. Cleveland won its final 10 games to clinch its first playoff spot since 2007.
"He wanted to be on a winner so bad, which is I think maybe that day when everything culminated in Minnesota. I didn’t take enough time to explain it correctly, which I feel bad about because he wasn’t bailing," Francona said. "He saw a team that had a chance to win and he was recognizing that and he said, `I’ll do anything. I’ll pitch in the fifth or the sixth.’"
Also, center fielder Michael Bourn was in the lineup and batting leadoff. There had been speculation he might miss the game with a leg injury, but Francona said he came through a workout on Tuesday with no issues.
"If he can pass last night, he can do anything," Francona said. "We ran him through everything full speed, turns, bases, outfield. He’s good to go."
One surprise in Cleveland’s lineup was Lonnie Chisenhall starting at third base instead of Mike Aviles, who was there frequently in the last few weeks.