LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- So much is so different for the Mets this spring -- new general manager, new assistants, new manager, different coaches, new clubhouse manager, new traveling secretary and some new players on the Spring Training roster. The changes are such that on Sunday, the Mets might have defied identification if not for their road grays with New York across the chest and the presence of a pitcher who could serve as the poster boy for a franchise in duress.
So much is different -- but not Oliver Perez, the perpetual Spring Training project.
Perez made his spring debut against the Braves at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, not far from the happiest place on earth, but he supplied no joy to his employer, manager or pitching coach. Indeed, Dan Warthen was rendered speechless by what he had witnessed.
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Throwing 43 mostly ineffective pitches in two innings, Perez gained a firmer hold on the label that was attached to him even before the Mets decided to pay him more than Andy Pettitte money for less than Andy Kaufman results -- Baseball's Most Unwanted Pitcher. The confluence of his performance, attitude and contract is the cause.
The club had bid against itself before it bestowed a $36 million contract on Perez after the 2008 season, and now that its obligation is reduced by two-thirds, it remains beside itself with angst and Perez. Poorly invested millions and multimillion dollar loans; which is cause and which is effect?
Good Ollie made a cameo appearance in the third inning of what became the Mets' 5-4 victory Sunday. He threw strikes -- nine of his 11 pitches -- and struck out two while surrendering a run. Yes, the standards for Good Ollie clearly have been lowered if the equivalent of a 9.00 ERA constitutes acceptable.
Good Ollie gave way to his evil twin in his second inning. He threw 32 pitches (16 for strikes), walked three batters -- in succession no less -- and surrendered two hits and three runs. Perez could have announced he was in midseason form, and no one would have debated him.
Instead, he resorted to the reasons/excuses/explanations he has recited through much of the period covered by his three-year, $36 million contract.
"I think the second inning, they took more pitches, and I think most of the pitches were around the home plate," said Perez. "But when it was a real good pitch with two strikes, they took it. And that's why I walked those three guys. ... They took really goods [at-bats], and sometimes you have to tip your hat.
"I felt a little nervous, you know, my first time, my first outing, I was excited and nervous ... at the same time, but I think that's very important for everybody, making that first step. That was not what I wanted, but you just go to take it easy, and try to be ready for the next game."
If there is a next. Manager Terry Collins, who had never seen Perez pitch in person, acknowledged one start wouldn't constitute a legitimate chance for the left-hander to compete for the role of No. 5 starter. Collins expects Perez to pitch again in relief and then starts in one of two split-squad games March 8. But if Perez' relief performance is similar to what he did Sunday, there may be no reason for Collins to see another appearance in any role.
Perez, 29, pitched 33 innings in 11 appearances, including six starts, in Mexico this winter in hopes of regaining arm strength and velocity that abandoned him last spring. The extra work didn't appear to have the desired effect.
"Right now, I feel really good," Perez said. "I know my velocity's not there -- that's why I'm working so hard, that's why I want to win, try to feel real good with all my pitches. I know my velocity's not there yet, but I think that's why I have to work, keep working, trying to go more in the game and try to have that velocity back."
Perez indicated fatigue may have been an issue.
"Because in the past week, we've been working hard, and I think everybody is kind of tired a little bit, because it was very sunny," he said. "But it's Spring Training -- trying to get ready and trying to build confidence in all your pitches for the season.
"I feel really good. I know that was a tough inning, and I think they scored two runs, and after that, we make an out at third base [in a rundown], but after that I felt real good. I feel confident with the lefties, with my sidearm. This is my first outing, and I just have to be ready for next one and try to get better."
And so the charade continues. The Mets still characterize Perez as a pitcher, and they say he still has chance to help the big league team. And if they believe it, well, duress takes many forms.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.