Pérez prepping for season and past any worries about status

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles’ bullpen competition tilts in Cionel Pérez’s favor.

It’s the one time that uneven works for him.

Pérez had two distinctly different halves in 2023, posting a 4.45 ERA and 1.780 WHIP in 33 games before the break and a 2.35 ERA and 1.261 WHIP in 32 games after it. Opponents batted .309 with an .825 OPS in the first half and .202 with a .517 OPS in the second. The only two home runs were hit May 31.

The only evidence of any consistency came in his matching 2-1 records, 22 strikeouts and two hit batters. That’s basically it.

Pérez is having a rocky spring training, and that includes yesterday’s outing, when the Rays loaded the bases with one out in the sixth.

Could have gotten ugly again, but second baseman Jordan Westburg made a flashy pickup of Isaac Paredes’ hot grounder and shortstop Gunnar Henderson made a flashy relay to first for a double play so pretty that it was suitable for framing.

The Rays singled twice in the inning and Pérez also walked a batter. He’s allowed seven runs and 11 hits in five appearances totaling 4 2/3 innings.

His ERA shrank from 17.18 to 13.50, but his WHIP crept up from 2.73 to 2.79 and average against from .450 to .458. Those numbers are heavy loads to drag around from camp to camp, even in games that don’t count.

But here’s the thing with Pérez: His career has advanced to the point where he isn’t going to live or die professionally with spring stats.

He’s out of minor league options and a valuable lefty who posted a 1.40 ERA in 66 appearances in 2022 and looked the part again in the second half last season.

“I think my preparation has been really good this spring and we completed a lot of hard work in the offseason. That’s been the biggest thing and that’s what I want to carry over into the season ultimately,” Pérez said yesterday via interpreter Brandon Quinones.

“Obviously, in spring we don’t really want to focus on the numbers too much and that’s not our objective, to focus on our ERA or whatever it is looks like. Right now I’m just trying to focus on pitching through the zone, locating my pitches in the zone, and doing that a lot better and addressing my preparation that’s going to get me to perform better once the actual season starts.”

There’s got to be that trust that Pérez has made the team.

The Orioles stuck with him last year through his struggles, like when he was charged with two earned runs in four of six outings from May 29-June 16, went on the injured list July 4 with left forearm soreness and allowed two runs with three walks in one inning in his first game back.

They aren’t likely to bail on him because he’s laboring in exhibition games while getting ready for Opening Day.

“As soon as the offseason started, the preparation began to get my body ready, to get everything ready for when the regular season starts,” he said. “It’s not coming into spring and trying to exhaust everything in that month and a half, which I know a lot of people do and they’re trying to do everything they can to make the team. When they do that, a lot of times they waste everything they have in this month and a half and they’re not able to get through the season. So, a big focus for me was doing everything I could in the offseason to prepare myself and make sure that all my pitches feel good for when the season starts.”

Manager Brandon Hyde downplays Grapefruit League stats to the point where he usually can't recite them beyond innings and at-bats. New closer Craig Kimbel has a 15.00 ERA and 2.667 WHIP in three innings, and the most you'll get out of Hyde is a shrug.

“I don’t look at their numbers. It’s mainly how they’re going to ramp up to the end of the season and how they’re throwing the ball here the last couple of weeks,” Hyde said.

“I don’t put a lot of stock into early spring training outings on the mound. I’ve seen guys that have had terrible springs and won 20 games. You try to evaluate almost scout-wise with your eyes and look at their metrics and see if they can help you.”

The adjustment to a new set of pitching instructors on the major league staff has been minimal for Pérez.

Drew French, who replaced Chris Holt as pitching coach, worked with Pérez in A ball in the Astros system in 2017.

“He’s familiar with me, and me with him,” Pérez said. He’s honestly really excited and proud of how I’m pitching now compared to when I was still with Houston. It’s been really cool. And being in baseball, there’s a lot of change that comes with that and you work with different people, but honestly so far, it’s been really good, and he’s been really excited with the way I’m executing pitches and going about things.”

The Orioles are hopeful that French hasn’t seen the best Pérez can offer this year.

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