The last time Chris Perez pitched at Akron’s Canal Park, his outing was such a disaster that he spent the drive home to Cleveland questioning his baseball career.
After Sunday afternoon’s simulated game, the Indians closer left Akron feeling the best he has since the first few weeks of spring training.
That range of emotions came within a five-day span for the embattled Perez, who has been on the disabled list since May 27 with right shoulder soreness.
Perez had hoped to be activated Friday. While he didn’t feel pain in his shoulder, mechanical issues led to a forgettable outing Tuesday with the Aeros. In one inning, Perez gave up five runs — including three home runs — with a mere 23 pitches.
The next day, Perez sat down with Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash and relived the nightmare outing via video.
“The last outing here, after I left, I was kind of lost,” Perez said. “But the next day, we looked at video and you could see I was flying open. My leg kick was good, but when I was coming through, I was just wide open. I was showing the ball early, was losing velocity and didn’t have any [ball] movement.”
Callaway and Cash gave Perez some pointers and watched him throw a bullpen a few days later on Friday.
“It went pretty well, but there was no hitters, so you can’t really tell,” Perez said. “So I had the idea of having a simulated game [Sunday] so I can face three lefties in a row or three righties and not have to worry about guys swinging to get hits.”
Like Tuesday’s outing, Perez threw just 23 pitches. However, this time, it came in a controlled environment in an empty stadium.
More importantly, the results left him feeling ready to rejoin his Indians teammates by resuming his closing duties.
“It went well,” he said. “I threw a lot of strikes, a lot of low strikes and I felt pretty normal, which is a good sign. I’m going to go back and tell them I’m ready. It’s up to them if they wanna activate me in a couple days or if they want me to do one more outing in a real game situation. But I think I’m ready.”
After the Tribe lost to Minnesota on Sunday, Indians manager Terry Francona was asked about Perez’s potential return.
“Chris said he felt great, but he’s pitching one more game — either Tuesday or Wednesday — after we see how he bounces back from Sunday,” Francona said.
Perez said he didn’t know how hard he was throwing, but he assumed it was in his normal range because the ball felt good coming out of his hand.
“It felt how it usually does coming out, with the same amount of life,” he said. “I had my movement back and my slider was good again. I felt like myself today.”
One of those on hand to watch Perez closely was Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard.
“Chris kept his lower half closed, which allowed his arm to catch up and be at more of an angle so he could have more life on his fastball,” Hibbard said. “The results showed how effective that was, that little adjustment made a big difference.”
Perez admitted he hasn’t been the same since suffering a left oblique injury in late February that kept him from participating in the World Baseball Classic.
“My first couple bullpens in spring training felt good and I threw lights out,” he said. “But ever since that first injury, everything’s been out of whack. We’re creatures of habit and the way throwing is, you pick up one bad habit for a couple months and then that feels normal, even though it’s not. I kept fighting that injury during the season, and my arm [slot] kept dropping and dropping.”
But after Sunday’s outing, Perez said his arm slot is back to where it should be and it’s left him “very encouraged.”
“Baseball is a humbling game,” he said. “There’s lots of cases of guys who are good for two, three, four years then just kind of lose it. Everyone has a mortality rate in this game and the end comes sooner for some than it does for others.
“It sucks to think like that, but when you have a family and you’re worried about your livelihood, you’re gonna think about. … But as soon as I realized [my problem] was mechanical, it was a huge lift off my shoulders because I can control that, I can fix that.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.