La Russa wants Chris Perez to just “keep cranking”

ST. LOUIS — Ejected from the major-league bullpen near the end of spring training and given the assignment of proving his readiness by closing in Triple-A, righthander Chris Perez did just that in Memphis’ opening night Thursday.

Perez pitched two scoreless innings and got the victory Thursday when Memphis got a bases-loaded walk in the 10th to defeat Oklahoma City, 4-3. (Here is the box score.) Perez did not give up a hit and he struck out two.

From the majors, the Cardinals will be eyeing Perez’s performance.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan has said that it’s possible for a pitcher, specifically Perez, to earn his way into a ninth-inning role with the big-league club by pitching well in the role for the minor-league affiliate. When told about being optioned out to Triple-A, Perez noted that he began last year in the minors and still received save opportunities in the majors — during a division-title race, no less. Manager Tony La Russa said he saw the reports on Perez’s outing Thursday and noted the righthanders success and the positive review of his outing from the coaches.

That doesn’t mean he’s on deck for an instant callup.

“The idea is to let him pitch and let us play,” La Russa said. “There isn’t a time table for his return. We don’t have a crystal ball. I’m pleased he got off to a good start. Let him keep cranking and we’ll see how it goes.”