Perez eyes supporting, closer roles

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Perez has his eyes on a role he feels he was born to play.

The closing role with the Indians? Well, sure, that's definitely a role the hard-throwing young reliever is interested in.

But for now, Perez's more modest hope is to land a cameo role on the HBO comedy show "Eastbound and Down." After all, he feels he bears a physical resemblance to the show's fictional main character, Kenny Powers, a former Major Leaguer adjusting to life outside of professional ball and trying to get back in.

Ever since the show debuted a year ago, people have been telling Perez he has a doppelganger in Danny McBride, the actor who plays Powers.

"I did a Google search of him," Perez said, "and my picture was like the third thing that came up."

The connection even runs from resemblance to representation, as the two belong to Creative Artists Agency.

"We actually reached out to his agent about getting me a cameo," said Perez, who has no previous acting experience. "Maybe I could be his competition. I could play the young guy who takes his job."

Alas, the second season of the show has already been shot, so Perez will have to wait at least another year.

In the meantime, he just might reach that other goal. If the Indians do follow the industry speculation and trade Kerry Wood at some point this season, Perez is Wood's heir apparent in the ninth-inning role.

"That's the way he's been groomed," manager Manny Acta said of Perez. "This is a guy who has the stuff to do it and the mentality to do it."

Perez's mentality was put to the test last season. The Indians acquired him from the Cardinals in the Mark DeRosa trade and placed him in their big league bullpen. They knew he had 60 Major League appearances under his belt in St. Louis, including seven saves at the tail end of the '08 season. They considered him a promising young arm who could help calm an erratic 'pen.

But not even the writers of "Eastbound and Down" could have scripted a more ridiculous Tribe debut than the one turned in by Perez.

Perez faced the White Sox on June 29 and nearly decapitated the first batter he faced, Alexei Ramirez. He also hit Jermaine Dye and walked Jim Thome. He didn't cover first on a would-be double-play ball. Then he served up an RBI double to Chris Getz and an RBI single to Gordon Beckham. All told, he was charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning, marking the first time in his professional career that he had given up four runs in an outing.

A week later, Perez faced the White Sox again, and this time gave up a sixth-inning grand slam to Paul Konerko that coughed up a lead and sent the Indians on the path to defeat.

Perez, however, didn't let those memorable experiences break him. He went on to have a solid second half, holding the opposition scoreless over 20 2/3 consecutive innings pitched from July 8 to Sept. 5 -- the longest such stretch by a Tribe reliever since Paul Assenmacher worked 23 consecutive scoreless innings in 1997. Perez's ERA from July 8 on was 2.90, as he struck out 36 batters in 31 innings and held opponents to a .173 average.

Still, Perez remembers the nights that got away from him as much as the ones that went his way. He remembers letting 12 of 23 inherited runners score and the five homers he served up in 33 1/3 innings of work with the Tribe.

So when Perez came to camp, he arrived with a new, two-seam fastball that he hopes will help him in situations with runners on base.

"That's something I struggled with last year," he said. "I came in with guys on base, and it seemed like every time, they'd hit a home run. That's where the two-seamer will help me. I'll get those ground-ball double plays to get out of the inning."

Perez was back on the mound against the White Sox on Thursday in a Cactus League game at Camelback Ranch, and he used the two-seamer for the first time. It didn't go so well. He only threw it to one hitter, Mark Kotsay, and the pitch was way out of the zone. So consider that a work in progress.

"I want to have it so that when I get behind in the count, 2-0 or something like that, instead of throwing a straight fastball, I can give them something with movement," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do now. I'm just trying to get my mechanics right."

Perez worked one inning against the heart of the White Sox lineup. He gave up a leadoff ground-ball single to Carlos Quentin, then retired the side, though Konerko and Kotsay both took him to the track.

If Perez, who is fully recovered from offseason ankle surgery, can add an effective sinker to his power arsenal, he'll be all the more dangerous in the late innings. Acta has already named Perez his primary right-handed setup man, and closing is a distinct possibility for him either this year or next.

Closing in the big leagues has been a goal for Perez throughout his professional career and going back to his days of holding that role at the University of Miami. He thought he had earned the chance to win that job with the Cardinals after his performance at the end of '08, but it wasn't there for him at the start of '09.

So when he hears Acta and the Indians express confidence in his capability to one day possess that job, Perez feels motivated.

"It's something I didn't get from St. Louis," he said. "It's great. You don't have to look over your shoulder. You know the manager has confidence in you, and it's up to me to get it done and prove to him that he should be confident in me. That starts with just being consistent and being able to get the ball to Kerry and keep the lead."

Should he be able to do so, Perez figures to have a longer and more productive career than Kenny Powers.

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