The reinvention of Óliver Pérez

18 seasons in the majors are not for everyone .

Oliver Perez

The 39-year-old Cleveland Indians player has been part of an evolution as the seasons go by in the best baseball in the world. / Photo: MLB

LatinAmerican Post | Saúl Gómez Pintor

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Leer en español: La reinvención en la carrera de Óliver Pérez

You do not get lucky to be the Mexican historical leader in seasons in the Major Leagues. It is due to more than that. 

To stay for 18 years in Las Mayores you need talent. But beyond his pitching repertoire, the Sinaloan Óliver Peréz has reinvented himself on the mound: from starter to situational reliever.

Now in the middle of 2020, he has to face at least three batters per appearance. The new regulation for serpentineros . From letting go of up to an average of 90 pitches per game, to doing so today under a methodical amount of no more than 25, the 39-year-old Cleveland Indians player has been part of an evolution over time. 

Longevity has accompanied him when settling in the work of entering in the middle of the duel. Working in a sixth, seventh, or eighth inning, or when the next hitter is a southpaw, has been the mechanism that has elevated his career.

On 689 occasions the Mexican has stood on top of a hill in the Big Top. 195 as part of a rotation. 494 games coming from the bullpen reveal that hitters are more vulnerable to his pitches with a .237 percentage to .243 when opening games; a 3.69 ERA versus 4.58. The same happens with the WHIP with 1,302 against 1,470. And of course, producing more strikeouts averaging 10.9 for every nine innings above 9.1.

"Before I became a reliever, I was a starter, so I know how to prepare to pitch in different situations," Perez told MLB.com last February. “It is a new world. I used to be a hitter-to-hitter man who had to be ready to pitch every day. Now, I just have to rest a little more because I will face more hitters. I know I can get all the hitters out. "

His first seasons were summed up to working every four days with the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Mets. The latter team with which he had his best year of 15 wins and which led him to win a 3-year, $ 36 million contract. But injuries were his victimizer by preventing him from pitching as the entire organization expected.

The last game he started was on May 14, 2010, with a three-inning loss with a third, seven runs, nine hits, and four homers allowed against the Florida Marlins. They took the ball from him without knowing there would be no upcoming start, only to wait to be called from the bullpen for the remainder of the regular schedule. The million-dollar journey in the Big Apple ended early the following year after being released by the team.

All of 2011 he was in the Minor League with the AA branch of the Washington Nationals. 16 appearances, 15 of them at the beginning of games. Facing younger players who are eager to make their way to the majors.

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"My wife and parents told me, 'You're still 29 years old and you can still pitch for many years,'" he recalls his feeling back then. “Then I thought about it and I started to think that I was still 29 years old and those three years were a waste. I was hurt. That's what I was thinking about. At the same time, I was exercising and training and then I regained my confidence and my speed and here I am.

A season later, the bullpen became his ally and refuge. The Seattle Mariners squad welcomed him as a regular reliever on their roster. He forgot about having to face the same batter 2 or 3 times a game. His task became to get a single out: left-handed against left-handed. As dictated by the 'little book' of baseball.

The statistics never lie and revealed an improvement in the performance of the Sinaloan pitcher. In that first season, coming to relieve his effectiveness, he finished at 2.12, the lowest in his entire career; opponents hit him .243, a figure that dropped considerably from the past two years. Like the WHIP at 1.25 in 33 games with Seattle.

2013 brought his second season with Seattle and he posted his first two saves, ending the year with a 3-3 record in 61 appearances in the regular role.

The uniforms of Arizona, Houston, Washington, and currently in his third year with Cleveland continued his stint in the Big Top. The latter, where he just had the privilege of leaving behind Fernando Valenzuela, Juan Gabriel Castro, and Aurelio Rodríguez in that historical list of 17 campaigns each.

“He has remade himself several times and is really a valuable guy in our team,” are the words of his current manager Terry Francona. “I know Oliver was really proud of (breaking the record), as he should be. That should be a big thing for him. That's a pretty good time for him. "

In the previous season, Óliver Pérez pitched in 67 games, and in which 17 of them, as a specialist, he entered only to face a left-handed rival. A scenario that would be impossible to realize this year before the new regulations established by the Major Leagues. Those same year left-handers hit .207, while right-handers .286.

Finishing this 2020 he will become a free agent. As his contract expires, the reliever forgets what it's like to be a "situational southpaw" in front of any batter, regardless of which side he stands next to the plate.

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