Perez gets another shot to turn season around

| Thursday, May 11, 2006

By a wide margin, Humberto Cota has caught Oliver Perez more than any Pirates' backstop.

Don't take that to mean he has any idea what ails the Pirates' talented but troubled 24-year-old left-handed starter.

Today, Perez will take yet another stab at turning around his terrible start this season.

He is 1-5 with a 7.71 ERA in seven starts, with just one "quality" outing to his credit. He has lost his past three starts, recording a 10.67 ERA in the process.

Perez and Pirates management are seemingly on the same page when it comes to his troubles -- specifically, the mechanics of his delivery.

Perez said Wednesday that his arm is not high enough when releasing the ball. At least, his release point is not where it was in 2004, when he led the National League in strikeouts per nine innings while looking like the future organizational ace.

Another problem, Perez said, is he's thinking too much on the mound about his mechanical troubles.

Essentially, he hopes tonight to "just throw (the ball)" -- as he did in 2004.

Manager Jim Tracy suggested Perez's troubles might start with his legs.

"There are some problems with the general mechanics of his delivery," Tracy said. "That includes the lower half. Things going on down there have to be in sync."

There remains some question as to whether Perez is in sync, mentally.

He said yesterday that his confidence is not shaken, adding that speculation his spot in the rotation might be in jeopardy is not getting to him.

Cota disagreed.

"He's put a lot of pressure on himself to be the ace of this staff, and it's not going real well for him -- he's aware of it," Cota said.

Cota added that, after evaluating tape of Perez's 2004 form, he did not see any mechanical difference between then and now.

"For whatever reason, he's just not throwing the ball as hard," Cota said of Perez, whose fastball was clocked in the high 90s during 2004 -- a rarity the past two seasons.

"The guy is just throwing flat out 85 (miles per hour), and you're not going to fool too many people with that."

Cota is not convinced Perez's "just throw it" approach will turn around his fortunes.

"He's been doing that the past three outings," Cota said. "It's not been working."

Cota, like Perez a native of Mexico, is the young pitcher's closest friend on the club. He clearly feels for Perez.

So too does Tracy, who would not pin any extra importance on Perez's start today.

"No, he's not," Tracy said when asked whether Perez is pitching for his starting spot. "What he needs to know is that we're all behind him."

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