PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Long fingers are an advantage for a pitcher. For a man generously listed as 6-foot tall, Johan Santana has relatively long fingers. They help him throw his changeup more effectively. On Thursday morning, they were used to make a point, and were they longer, they might have been stuck in the chest of Oliver Perez.

While others were talking about, but hardly praising Perez, Santana was talking to him. Consider it a talking to -- left-handed pitcher to left-handed pitcher, teammate to teammate, friend to friend and, the way some chose to see it, man to child. It was more monologue than a conversation.

For Perez, it was the morning after the day before. He had been hammered by the Tigers on Wednesday -- six runs, six walks and six hits in 4 2/3 innings. He needed 92 pitches to achieve 11 outs. And afterward, his pitching coach and manager expressed their dissatisfaction, respectively, about his conditioning and his performance. Neither was pleased.

Santana, the polar opposite of Perez in many ways, but also a mentor, became involved Thursday morning.

"I talked to him. ... He's got to get into pitching again and get going. He knows that," Santana said. "He's got to get his mechanics and his command."

Santana acknowledged it was rather late in camp for such a conversation.

Santana didn't condemn his teammate, nor did he offer words of encouragement, as he characterized the conversation. He didn't say "He'll be all right" or "I'm not concerned." The club is concerned and a tad miffed. It had suspected Perez's participation in the World Baseball Classic might undermine his preparation for the 2009 season. But it hadn't expected him to return "out of shape," to use the words of pitching coach Dan Warthen.

"We need him to be in shape and be serious," said Warthen.

Perez denied he is out of shape Thursday, but acknowledged "I'm a little behind." He seemed to challenge reporters who questioned him about Warthen's comments.

"If you want to run, we can run," said Perez, who signed a $36 million contract with the Mets in February.

He did allow that he might have been better conditioned by now if not for his participation in the Classic.

"We were working different in the Classic," said Perez. "We didn't do [pitchers fielding practice] and all the exercises we do here, but I feel good."

Perez noted he had pitched merely 6 2/3 inning in 19 days and said, "If I was here, I'd throw more than 10 innings. That's why in Spring Training, you need to get ready to have all your pitches."