Oliver Perez Walks the Line

Jason BurkeCorrespondent IMay 3, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  Oliver Perez #46 of the New York Mets reacts in the dugout after he was taken out of their game against the Washington Nationals in the fifth inning on April 26, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

A few weeks back, I attended the Mets' opening practice at Citi Field with my fellow B/R writer, Lou Cappetta. 

The event was more of an opportunity to check out the intricacies of the new park and sneak a peek at all of our favorite players up close.

We decided to sit in center field to get a good view of the action and also get a chance to catch some long bombs. 

In front of us were Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Jeremy Reed, and Oliver Perez roaming the green grass in center. During one routine fly ball, Oliver Perez pulled a hot-shot behind-the-back catch, amazing the crowd in the process.

But the play isn't what sticks out in my mind; it's what happened after the crowd was silenced and Perez lofted the baseball in our direction.

My friend, Lou, yelled, "Oliver Perez just walked me!" garnering a few laughs from the crowd.

Now, I can almost hear every player in the league saying the same thing in my mind.

Perez has always been somewhat of an enigma, using a plus fastball and slider to compensate for lapses in his concentration and saving his best for the league's best.

That is what makes yesterday's performance so much more than what on the outside appears to be an inability to throw strikes.

Part of the rationale for signing the younger mercurial Perez over the older, stable Derek Lowe was that he owned the Phillies, Braves, and Yankees.

In fact, in 2008 alone, Perez was 1-0 with a 0.35 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia and he had not allowed a single run (12.2 innings) at Citizen's Bank Park during that span.

How will Omar justify the $36 million signing of Perez if he doesn't even make it to his next start against Philadelphia at Citi next week? 

So far this season, Perez has only made it past the fifth in one start. The only start he won this season was against San Diego.

His numbers are even more ghastly:  1-2 with a 9.97 ERA, walking 21 in 21.2 innings pitched.

Jerry Manuel said after the game, "His confidence is shot," and Perez himself called it "embarrassing." 

Adding to his struggles and possibly his lost confidence is a loss in velocity. In his first five starts, Perez seems to be struggling to get to 90 MPH at times. A big difference at the Major League level from the 94-95 MPH pitch he would hit consistently last year.

That, combined with the fact that he always pitches from behind in the count, are contributing factors to the league hitting .315 against him.

At this point, the Mets are deciding between relegating him to the bullpen or sending him to the Minors to repair his fragile psyche and broken mechanics.  If Perez goes down to the Minors, they could call up Tim Redding or Jon Neise to take his place.

All in all, these are not the greatest options for the Mets, who are suffering an identity crisis, but the Phillies, Braves, and Yankees don't seem to be complaining.