Perez brings power to Diamondbacks’ bullpen
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kevin Towers scouted Oliver Perez at 15, signed him for the Padres at 16, watched him throw seven shutout innings against the Diamondbacks in his seventh major league start in 2002 and was so taken by his conversion to the bullpen that he tried to get him from the Mariners at the 2013 trading deadline.
Together again, Towers praised Perez’s power arm and sounded as if he expected big things from him this season.
"We feel in our ballpark, power plays, not only with the bats but with the arms," Towers said when the Diamondbacks officially announced Perez’s signing Monday after agreeing to terms on a two-year, $4.25 million contact on Friday.
"To have a power left-hander in our bullpen is something that we needed. It was an area that we wanted to upgrade. With the fastball and the braeking ball he has and the angle that he has, he’s kind of like a left-handed (Brad) Ziegler with more power. It’s power. It’s arm slots. It’s a guy who controls the running game. He’s not just a situational left-hander."
Perez, 32, is one of three left-handed relievers on the D-backs’ 40-man roster. Both Joe Thatcher and Joe Paterson are considered more finesse pitchers.
"At least he will give hitters an uncomfortable at-bat," one veteran scout said after the deal was first made public.
The deal made a lot of sense for Perez, who lives in Paradise Valley. He was still on the market after two good years in Seattle because his wife is expecting their second child any day now — she is in her 40th week — and because he believes he will not need much work to get ready for the regular season, saying five appearances is all he requires. He is scheduled to make his first appearance Tuesday against the Indians and expects to be ready to pitch in Australia against the Dodgers on March 22-23.
After adding Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo and Addison Reed, the D-backs looked to the left side of the bullpen as an area of interest. They got serious with Perez’s agent, Scott Boras, last week, and the deal came together quickly after Perez threw a bullpen for the team Friday.
"Ollie was somebody that we felt if the deal makes sense, he would be somebody who would significantly upgrade our bullpen," Towers said.
The Diamondbacks would not rule out carrying two left-handers in the bullpen this season, and they are likely to take two to Australia, for that matter, while they leave three starting pitchers home. At the same time, the excess of right-handed relievers seems to limit a second left-hander’s chances of making the team. Closing candidates Addison Reed and J.J. Putz, long men Josh Collmenter and Randall Delgado and setup men Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez seem set. Will Harris also pitched well in short relief last season.
"In a perfect world, it would be nice to have multiple lefties in the pen. I don’t know exactly how that is going to play out," Towers said. "We have some excess. We know that. We understand that. A lot can happen."
Thatcher, obtained with reliever Matt Stites from the Padres for Ian Kennedy deal last July 31, got off to a good start in Arizona but struggled down the stretch, going 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in 22 appearances. He was 0 for 2 in save opportunities. Paterson was effective in 2011 when the D-backs won the NL West in his first major league season, but he has spent most of the last two years at Class AAA Reno.
The Diamondbacks’ franchise-record payroll jumped to about $107 million this season with the addition of Perez and the $2.35 million owed to Thatcher when the sides settled to avoid arbitration, but they have had no qualms about spending to contend in the NL West.
Perez, a native of Culiacan, Mexico, broke into the major leagues at age 20, and the D-backs got a good look at his power arm early. He held Arizona to four hits and struck out seven on May 20, 2002, and left with a 1-0 lead after seven innings before the D-backs rallied for a 7-1 victory. He had double-digit victories in 2004 with the Pirates and 2007 and 2008 with the Mets before struggling with his command in 2009-10, making only seven appearances in 2010. He spent 2011 in the minors after being released by the Mets.
On the advice of pitching coach and trusted friend Spin Williams, Perez went to winter ball to learn to pitch in relief, and it took. He was 4-6 with a 3.16 ERA in two seasons in Seattle’s bullpen, racking up 98 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings. He uses a fastball/slider mix, and his fastball hits the low 90s regularly.
"As a starter, you have plenty of time to think about it," Perez said. "When you are a reliever, you are going in in key situations, when your team is going to win or going to lose. For me, it is very exciting."