By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
MINNESOTA: Indians manager Terry Francona met with Chris Perez on Friday afternoon at Target Field and told him that he won’t use him in the ninth inning for the time being.
Just how long Perez will be out of the mix remains to be seen. But after blowing a save Tuesday in Cleveland and turning a five-run lead in the ninth inning Thursday in Minnesota into a one-run nail-biter, Francona said Friday that he will manage with a closer-by-committee approach for now.
“We need to get [Perez] back to being a force,” Francona said before batting practice Friday. “In the meantime, we’ll probably ease him off of the closer’s role the next three days.”
Demoting Perez is far from a rash move for a team fighting for a wild-card berth. Perez’s struggles have come over the course of a majority of the season dating to late May when he blew a save in Boston then landed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
Perez had a period of success upon his return.
But his struggles came back. Since Aug. 1, Perez has a 7.52 ERA. He has given up 17 runs on 30 hits, including seven home runs. During that 20⅓-inning span, Perez has three blown saves and two losses and batters have hit him at a .345 clip.
“Whether [Perez] has said it or not, he probably hasn’t been healthy the entire year,” said Justin Masterson, who will work in the bullpen after a three-week layoff with an oblique strain. “It’s unfortunate. He’s pushing through whatever he’s got going on admirably.”
The silver lining for the Indians is that with September call-ups, options abound in the bullpen. There are plenty of available relievers who give Francona the freedom to mix and match as he sees fit late in close games.
Several Tribe relievers could fill Perez’s role.
Two of the more likely options are set-up man Joe Smith and Masterson, who was a reliever with the Boston Red Sox and briefly with the Indians before developing into the staff’s top starter.
Smith, who ended up replacing Perez on Thursday and went on to get his third save of the season, is 6-2 with a 2.32 ERA in 69 appearances.
Masterson is an intriguing option as well. His return from injury came Wednesday in relief and with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that included two strikeouts. But Masterson seemed to want no part of the pressure of closing, indicating he’s looking forward to starting again if the team can make it deep into the playoffs.
So for now, Masterson said he’s happy to be the Indians “sixth-inning guy” or as he later put it, “the set-up to the set-up to the closer.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.