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Perez refuses to panic

| Thursday, June 15, 2006

His 6.68 earned-run average is the worst among Pirates' starters by almost two runs.

His eight losses are tied for the league lead.

His fastball, consistently clocked between 88 and 92 mph, isn't what it once was, between 94 and 98.

His control is helter-skelter.

Still, Oliver Perez isn't worried about his spot in the Pirates' rotation -- even though a seemingly healthy Kip Wells is close to returning from a minor-league rehab stint.

"I don't worry about that. It won't help me to worry about that," Perez said. "I can only control what I do for this team."

On Tuesday night at PNC Park, Perez was good. He allowed only two runs on seven hits over seven innings -- a clear improvement from his previous two outings, in which he lasted just five innings and allowed 14 earned runs.

Before those two starts, Perez was near brilliant over three outings from May 17-28. In those games, he worked 20 innings and allowed just four earned runs.

Before those three starts, Perez went 1-5 with a 7.71 ERA over seven starts.

How to best summarize Perez's 2006 -- a season in which he was supposed to recapture his dominant form from 2004?

Well, if a Pittsburgher were responsible for updating the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sketch of Perez might be found next to the word "inconsistent."

"There are some games when I haven't felt comfortable, and when I'm like that, I don't do well," Perez said. "I don't have a reason for it. Sometimes I think that I'm thinking too much when I'm on the mound. I've done well when I just throw the ball and don't worry about my mechanics."

That statement can hardly be classified as news. After all, Perez is already on the record suggesting he might be concentrating too much on mechanics when, in all likelihood, he would be better served trusting his natural pitching instincts.

Catcher Ronny Paulino couldn't agree more. Paulino might know what he's talking about; with him behind the plate, Perez has a 3.30 ERA in five starts.

"The last couple of times I've caught him, he's seemed comfortable," said Paulino, who was Perez's backstop Tuesday. "His stuff has been pretty good, just not consistent. His breaking ball is getting better. If he can find any kind of consistency, he'll be fine."

Paulino has taken on the challenge of channeling Perez's inner-ace upon his broad rookie shoulders.

"The only thing I can do is make him feel comfortable," Paulino said. "I have to pretty much be like a coach out there -- talk to him before every inning and go over what we're trying to do.

"He's good when we just talk it out. I think it relaxes him and helps him just put everything out of his head and pitch. From what I've seen, that's when Oliver is at his best."

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