Right-hander Ryan Perry is now with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators as he prepares to transition from reliever to starter. The 6-foot-4, 213 lb. pitcher will make his professional debut as a starter Saturday night at the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Perry is slated to pitch three innings, or to a limited pitch count, as he makes his initial attempt pitching as a starter.
This will be the first time Perry has started at this level, having made 15 starts in his 62 games over three seasons at the University of Arizona.
Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart does not think this will be a difficult change for Perry to undertake because of his experience of 156 big league games.
"I don't think it is necessarily hard because he had it in his background starting in college," Menhart said. "Just developing a routine will be the biggest challenge for him and to get him lengthened out, pitches wise and innings wise. We have the luxury of guys that can go long in our bullpen so he will have protection. I don't think it will be that big of a deal for him."
Menhart said Perry will go three innings for the first couple of starts, saying "it will be four or five starts before he is at that five- or six-inning mark where he is a normal starter."
Perry has already been stretched out at the Triple-A level as a reliever.
"We are going baby him a little bit to get the pitch count up, maybe about two weeks he should be a regular starter," Menhart said. "It is not going to be that big of a deal because the guy is a horse."
The 25-year-old Perry was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft as the No. 21 overall selection. From the outset, the Tigers focused on Perry as a reliever and possible closer, spending three seasons with Detroit. In 2011, he split the season between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo.
Then in the offseason, he was traded to Washington for right-hander Collin Balester. Perry appeared in seven games with the Nationals this season, but surrendered nine runs, eight hits, two homers in 12 innings, and was sent to Triple-A Syracuse.
But the Nationals didn't decide to switch Perry to a starter just because of the rough outings he had in D.C.
Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said they had "light conversations" about making Perry a starter back in spring training because he had the makeup. They liked Perry's big, physical body and believed he had the stuff and the endurance to be a starter.
Perry certainly has that stuff: a fastball that clocks in "between 90 and 96 mph with good angle, a power breaking ball, changeup and a curveball," Harris said.
Nationals right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus, who began his career in 2004 as a starter, said it will be a transition that will take some work. Mattheus explained coming out of the bullpen you don't need as many pitches as you would if you started the game and had to throw 100 pitches.
"I think (it is more difficult to go) from reliever to starter, just based on building up that work load and learning how to face that lineup two times, three times, hopefully four times through, sometimes," Mattheus said. "As a reliever, we get the luxury of going out there and facing them once, so they don't see your repertoire.
"There is a bigger emphasis on three pitches. That was my knock as a starter, they took the split-finger fastball away from me and tried to develop the changeup and I never could develop that third pitch. My second or third time through the lineup, I had trouble."
Mattheus made 88 starts early in his minor league career, in places like Casper, Asheville, Modesto and Tulsa. He knows what it is like to be a starter and a reliever. He said when he moved to the bullpen, he became a "two-pitch" pitcher. Once he settled into his new role and had success, he was able to add some of his pitches back in. That is what will happen to Perry now.
"(Eventually), I got the split-finger fastball back, then I became a three-pitch pitcher again," he said. "I think it is easier going that way because you are used to face a lineup two or three times. When you only go to do it once and you only have to get three outs, it is a lot easier.
"I went to the bullpen and started throwing exclusively out of the stretch. There is a lot less movement than a wind up that a starter uses. You don't necessarily have to use a wind up as a starter, but I guess that is something in the unwritten rules. That plays a huge part of it, being able to repeat your delivery and that is something I had trouble with as a starter as well."
The 28-year-old Mattheus believes this will be a good thing for Perry, because the youngster will get to utilize breaking pitches that he had to shelve in a relief role.
"If I were giving him advice, I'd say take it as an opportunity to further your repertoire," Mattheus said. "He will get time to throw some innings, get stretched out, work on that third pitch and fourth pitch."
Menhart said Perry has the capability of being a starter because he has more than a couple of plus pitches and now he will get a chance to throw all of them more often.
"This is definitely going to benefit him," Menhart said. "It is ideal for guys with great stuff, three quality big league pitches, to have him start and use him more often so he has a better feel for (his pitches).
"He is healthy, he is good to go. He has some mechanical things he needs to iron out to get more consistent throwing the ball over the plate and that is what we are going to do."