Scuffling Perez may drop from rotation race

Scuffling Perez may drop from rotation race

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- So that's it, then. Oliver Perez's turbulent career as a Mets starter almost certainly ended with yet another poor performance on Tuesday, when he allowed the first four Astros batters to reach base and permitted three of them to score.

Nothing is official quite yet -- manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson, both of whom drove four hours round-trip to watch Perez's start, must still huddle with pitching coach Dan Warthen to discuss the lefty's future. But all signs point to Perez dropping out of the rotation race.

From here, he will ostensibly compete for a lefty specialist's job in the bullpen, though even that remains an extreme long shot. Tim Byrdak, Taylor Tankersley and Mike O'Connor all currently stand above Perez on the depth chart, and the Mets finally appear willing to shed the $12 million left on his contract without a second thought.

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So assuming Perez does not somehow squeeze his way onto the Opening Day roster over the next three weeks, his days in New York will end. Nearly five years after bursting into Flushing as a high-octane 24-year-old lefty, Perez will depart as a 29-year-old flameout with no obvious career path before him. He has not won a game since August 2009. He has not provided any sort of positive returns since '08.

But Tuesday, he continued to cling to the optimism of an 88-mph fastball.

"I don't have to think [about] pressure," Perez said. "I know what I have to do. What's more important is trying to get better. I feel better. I feel stronger and I think the velocity was way better than the last outing, and I think that was a really good step for me."

Though Perez did finish his outing with two scoreless innings, he began it by giving up a single, a walk, a single and a double -- all three hits coming on squared-up line drives. He only escaped further damage because Zach Lutz snared another liner for an out, just as Perez later slipped out of a third-inning jam thanks to Lucas Duda's leaping catch in left.

Twice, Collins went to visit Perez on the mound -- in the first inning, to instruct him to stop relying so heavily on his fastball, then again in the third to encourage him.

Yet Perez, despite the optimism of his words, appeared anything but encouraged after Tuesday's outing. If anything, he seemed resigned. Asked if he felt he did enough to prove to Collins that he deserves another start, Perez said simply, "Ask him."

Pressed on his personal viewpoint, Perez said: "What do you think I'm going to answer? Yes."

If nothing else, Perez knows he is in no imminent danger of being cut. Upon arriving to camp more than three weeks ago, Perez and Collins agreed that the lefty would receive a chance to compete first for a rotation spot, and then, if that did not pan out, for a bullpen job. The first phase of that plan now appears complete, but the second has yet to begin. And Collins reiterated Tuesday that he owes it to Perez at least to give him a chance in relief.

"Throwing strikes is something that you've got to do out of the bullpen," Collins said. "That's just part of that role is to come in and be able to go after the hitters and make some pitches. But I'll discuss that with Sandy and Dan in the morning."

"We have to talk first," Perez said. "Right now, I feel really good starting games, but that's not my decision. That's the manager's decision. But right now I feel real good to start games because all my career I've been a starter."

Yet never before has Perez seemed so expendable. He has virtually no value on the trade market. Ownership has given Alderson public permission to cut Perez if the general manager considers it necessary. Few, if any, logical arguments exist in the left-hander's favor. And if nothing else, Perez's presence has become a public relations albatross, agitating a frustrated fan base.

Simply put, Perez has given the Mets no reason to believe he can ever be a successful big league starter again -- his velocity, once regularly in the low- to mid-90s, topped out at 88 miles per hour on Tuesday, while his slider did not possess its former bite.

It is possible that Perez could still provide value as a lefty specialist, considering the significant population of lefty sluggers in the National League East and Perez's history of success against them. Even last summer, at the height of his ineffectiveness, Perez held same-sided hitters to a .214 average.

Tuesday, the Mets would not tip their hand on that front.

"Either he will continue on as a candidate for the starting rotation or he will shift to a candidacy for the bullpen," Alderson said. "All that will culminate at some point in a decision."

But the questions continue to outweigh the potential benefits, pointing to the lefty's eventual departure. Although fans haven't seen the last of Perez in a Mets uniform, they likely have seen the beginning of the end.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.