Team USA drops 2nd AFL game, 8-6, to Scottsdale

October 29, 2007

By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com

• Box | Log | Gameday

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.— Chris Perez hasn’t pitched well in his audition as Team USA’s closer.

Perez, one of two potential closers for the national team, allowed four runs with two outs in the ninth inning in Team USA’s 8-6 loss to the Scottsdale Scorpions at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday afternoon.

“I am all out of whack right now,” Perez said.

Perez, a Cardinals prospect, has two poor performances and a 27.00 ERA in the national team’s six-game tune-up for the IABF World Cup from Nov. 6-18 in Taiwan. Conversely, Chris Booker, the team’s other closer and a Nationals’ prospect, closed out Team USA’s win on Saturday without any difficulty.

The blown save dropped Team USA to 1-2 against Arizona Fall League teams and wasted a 16-hit day from the offense. Every starter except Colby Rasmus, a Cardinals’ prospect and the national team’s centerfielder, had at least one hit.

Andy LaRoche (Dodgers) homered and Steve Pearce, a Pirates’ farmhand and MiLB.com’s Offensive Player of the Year, collected three hits.

Pitching-wise, Matt Wright delivered another strong outing (four innings, two runs) and Lee Gronkiewicz (Blue Jays) tossed two scoreless innings. However, Perez’s second poor performance trumped everything.

Perez, a former closer at the University of Miami and a supplemental first round pick in the 2006 Draft, had a 2-1 record and 35 saves at two Minor League levels this season.

However, he delivered a 0-1 record, eight saves and a 4.50 ERA in the last two months of the season at Triple-A Memphis. Control was a factor: in 14 innings, Perez allowed just six hits, but posted a 15/13 strikeout to walk rate. He had just two 1-2-3 saves in two months.

“That is how I pitch,” he said. “I tend to throw a lot of pitches, get guys on base and get in some jams.”

Then-Triple-A pitching coach and current minor league roving coordinator Dyar Miller has tried to smooth out Perez’s mechanics and improve his command. Team USA pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, a friend of Miller’s, has also worked with Perez in Arizona.

“There are some things,” Lachemann said. “He drops his arm and when his arm drops, everything gets very flat. [Perez] knows about that.

I have known Dyar for awhile and we are pretty much on the same page and Chris understands what he needs to do. We will give him a chance to work on it here to keep his arm at a better angle, but it is going to take some time probably.”

It’s time that Team USA is lacking. The national team has just three more games and a few days overseas before they start playing against international competition. Through two games, Perez, in his first appearances since the Minor League season ended, has allowed five walks and five runs in 1 2/3 innings. No other Team USA pitcher has struggled like Perez.

“I think I am little bit off,” Perez said. “I haven’t seen hitters in six weeks. My arm is probably not in the shape that it was during the season. I am just trying to battle through it right now. Hopefully the next outing will be a little bit better and keep going through it.”

In his first performance last Thursday, Perez allowed three walks and one run in 2/3 innings. He tossed just eight strikes among 23 pitches and was removed in the middle of the inning.

His stuff was a little better four days later, but the final line wasn’t. He spread just 12 strikes over 31 pitches.

“I was rushing, my arm wasn’t catching up with me,” Perez said. “This outing was better than the last one I thought. Mechanics-wise, I felt better, I just didn’t get the results.”

Perez came into close out a 6-4 game and retired the first two batters on a strikeout and a ground ball. Then, Perez walked Ryan Cunningham (Blue Jays) on four straight pitches and hit Mike Carp (Mets) in the foot with a fastball.

“It is all about getting everything going again,” Perez said. “When you don’t have smooth mechanics, your velocity drops. My legs aren’t under me yet. A bunch of stuff is going on right now.”

After a visit from Lachemann, Perez fell behind Aaron Cunningham (Diamondbacks) 3-0 before Cunningham drove a RBI single to center and put runners on first and third.

Throwing just his fastball, Perez walked Mike Nickeas (Mets) on five pitches. With the bases loaded, Velez grounded a 3-2 pitch by Evan Longoria (Devil Rays) and into the left field corner for a three-run double. He retired Reid Brignac (Devil Rays) to end the inning and Team USA couldn’t come back in the bottom of the ninth.

“Usually I get out of it, but today, they hit a ball down the line and they scored those runs,” Perez said. “Six inches one way and it would be another out. It is just a rough day, but I am going to have to bounce back.”

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com.