Unimposing Chris Perez Starring as Indians' Closer
Stan McNeal - SportingNews.com
Jun 03, 2011
As often as we've been subjected to Jonathan Papelbon's scowl filling TV screens in recent years, the perception of closers as menacing intimidators is wrong. The only thing nasty about Mariano Rivera is his cutter. Heath Bell looks more teddy bear than grizzly bear. Even Brian Wilson's beard has grown into a caricature.
Chris Perez might be the best example out there that closers don't need to act scary to succeed. With a slightly pear-shaped body, floppy hair and quick smile, he looks more suited for a frat-house softball game than major league mound. He is one of the new breed big-leaguers, who not only reach out to fans but actually enjoy the experience.
Send him a reasonable question on Twitter (@ChrisPerez54) and you'll be treated to his candidness. Check out his song of the day and you'll be impressed by his classic-rock tastes, or talk to him and you'll leave with a smile.
Of course, his laid-back ways would not be so notable if he didn't pitch with the determination of "El Toro," the nickname he earned at Miami. In his first full season as a closer, the 25-year-old righthander is as big a reason as any that the Indians have the majors' best record.
He has 14 saves in 15 chances with a 2.61 ERA and though he doesn't seem to mind working out of trouble spots, he hasn't allowed a baserunner in 10 of 21 outings. He lacks the velocity of other young closers but has a better slider than most and, more important, the mindset to close.
"You look at the end of the day and you might have given up a run or two or looked like crap, but you got that last out so it's all forgotten," he says.
Maintaining such an approach, of course, is easier when you've blown only two saves in the past 12 months. Perez, however, faced adversity when he blew two chances for Tony La Russa as a rookie in 2008, soon was bypassed in the bullpen and the following year was deemed expendable. Traded to the Indians, he worked up to the eighth-inning role and transitioned smoothly to the ninth when Kerry Wood was dealt last July.
"I thought I was ready in St. Louis," Perez says. "But that's how Tony is. I had a couple of rough ones. It wasn't like I was terrible. I was inexperienced. I was just going after them with my stuff. Now I'm more mature, I'm pitching now."
For a team that believes in him: "Chris has both the stuff and demeanor to be a successful closer," says Indians GM Chris Antonetti. "He's comfortable with the role and the responsibilities that go with it."
Without trying to stare a hole through a TV screen.
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