Perez close, but not the Cards' closer
La Russa tempers expectations after rookie's sharp outing
ST. LOUIS -- Even though he looked dominant on Wednesday night, Chris Perez is "no Bruce Sutter, yet."
And despite the many issues for the Cardinals' bullpen this year, manager Tony La Russa is not ready to name Perez the closer, though the rookie was lights out against the Dodgers.
"The worst thing we can do right now is heap on expectations on Perez -- anointing him the closer -- mostly because he's not ready for it," La Russa said. "Just let him take his assignments and once in a while, he's closing."
Entering the game with a runner on second base on Wednesday, Perez retired five of the six batters he faced. Possessing a blazing fastball and slider with bite, Perez has the potential to close.
Not only is Perez young and relatively inexperienced, La Russa has other reasons for hesitating with the rookie. He is in his second stint in the Majors this season. The Cardinals sent Perez back down to Triple-A Memphis on July 18 with a mission: work on the slider.
"There's a reason he got sent down," La Russa said. "He lost an edge there. ... He had a problem. Command of his fastball was good, not great. Command on his breaking ball was not as nice. If he improves both of those things, like yesterday, he does that a lot -- just let him baby step, baby step, baby step."
After Jason Isringhausen struggled on Tuesday, the Cardinals announced they would operate by a closer "by committee." La Russa said that includes anyone that is available.
In a perfect world, La Russa would rather have Perez grow into the role over the course of the year -- much like Kyle McClellan is preparing for next year and Adam Wainwright did in 2006.
"The best is if you can give him a whole year in the Major Leagues and you can groom him, groom him, groom him," La Russa said. "Then the next year, it bears fruit."
Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.