Lefty Perez on top of his game at age 37

Reliever's longevity helped by long mountain hikes

March 4th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The view of the sunrise from the top of Camelback Mountain suits the king of the Culichis.

It’s there, almost 3,000 feet above the city and less than 20 minutes outside of downtown Phoenix, where Indians reliever goes to find his inner peace.

“Being up there and looking down at the city means it’s a job well done,” said Perez, 37. “That’s a very good workout. It’s not easy, but it’s very satisfying, and that mountain has become part of my routine, my life and perspective.”

The pride of Culiacan, Mexico, is coming off one of the best years of his career in 2018, and the Indians are counting on him to be an important part of their bullpen this season. The numbers say Perez is getting better with age. The pitcher, in those quiet moments on the Phoenix summits, acknowledges that it’s all true.

“The older you get, you have to find solutions and answers to get the same results,” Perez said in Spanish. “I’ve learned how to diet and take care of my body. I understand my body, how it moves, how much sleep I need and what to put inside of it to stay consistent. At the end of the year, I feel like I can keep going. And that’s the goal, right?”

Perez joined the Indians last June after being granted his release from the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he played a pivotal role in the Tribe's bullpen. He led the team with 15 holds, recorded scoreless appearances in 46 of his 51 outings and limited left-handed hitters to a .194 batting average and righties to just .104.

In addition to his 1.39 ERA, he also had a career-low 5.8 percent walk rate last season. It was significant improvement when you consider he had a 12 percent walk rate for his career and was often over 15 percent while with the Mets.

The lefty also upped his strikeout percentage from 27.3 to 35.8, which ranked him 20th among the 605 pitchers who threw 30 innings in 2017 and 2018. He increased his ground-ball rate to 41.2 percent, the second-highest of his career.

He has allowed one hit in two innings this spring.

“He was a breath of fresh air when he came over,” reliever Dan Otero said. “He’s on the older side, but he’s also the most energetic guy here. He’s running off the field and hopping over the lines. That’s something you saw as an opponent, and after you get to play with him, you find out that not one person has a single bad thing to say about him.”

Perez says he’s a better pitcher at 37 than he was at 27 because he’s wiser and more experienced. He’s definitely stronger.

The lefty has trained with Rafael "Rox" Arroyo, a former Minor League player and big league bullpen catcher for almost a decade. Arroyo, who has made a name for himself as the go-to trainer for a list of MLB players that includes Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias, uses a program that seeks to improve mind, body and spirit with a variety of workouts that includes hiking. It didn’t take long for Perez to buy into the program, and it has resulted in improved body control, strength and balance.

“He is very athletic and really shapes his pitches well,” Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said. “And he has such a good feel for disrupting hitters with his timing and different deliveries while still maintaining his release point, regardless of his arm slot. He just has amazing body control and can really pitch.”

The hikes on Camelback Mountain also provide Perez the opportunity to ponder his legacy. He’s a mainstay on Mexico’s team in the World Baseball Classic tournaments, and he plays Winter Ball for his hometown team every year. Perez is a proud Culichi -- the nickname given to locals in Culiacan -- and he will be remembered as one the greatest players from his country to ever play in the Major Leagues.

The father of three is also expecting his fourth child this summer.

“When it’s all over, I hope people think of me of a person who had a long career, a normal person that had highs and lows,” Perez said. “I’ve learned a lot in my life, things like trying to take the positive out of the negative experiences and to improve on the positive experiences to be a consistent player."