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Seasoned in Seattle: New role suits wiser Perez

Lefty moves past disappointment in New York, carves out niche as specialist

Oliver Perez is wiser, smarter and more seasoned. Alas, he has aged. Just look at the smattering of gray specks commandeering Perez's hairline.

This isn't the old Perez, the southpaw who caved to the pressure of pitching in New York on a $36 million contract.

This is the older Perez, a father, a reinvented reliever and a man so relaxed that he can enjoy life's small treasures, such as a morning game of Bejeweled Blitz on his iPad.

Perez hasn't always had the time or focus to appreciate the simple things. He spent his last three years with the Mets trying to justify the belief the team originally had in him. That saga lacks a fairytale ending.

"When you're in the moment, you just want to get better at that time," Perez said. "When the years pass, you have to know what you're doing wrong to learn not to do it again. That was a really tough three years for me."

On the heels of two strong campaigns, Perez signed a three-year pact worth $12 million per season. From 2007-08, the lefty tallied 25 wins, logged a 3.91 ERA and punched out nearly a batter per inning.

The Mets slotted Perez near the top of a rotation anchored by Johan Santana. The lofty expectations, however, consumed Perez. He developed tendinitis in his right knee, which only added to his problems on the mound. Perez eventually needed season-ending surgery in '09.

In the first year of his new deal, Perez submitted a 3-4 record and a 6.82 ERA in 14 outings. In '10, he compiled an 0-5 mark and a 6.80 ERA in 17 appearances (seven starts). Perez issued 100 free passes in 112 1/3 innings over the two seasons and suffered from a sudden drop in velocity. He averaged nearly 92 mph on his fastball in 2007. By '10, that number dwindled to 89 mph.

"I was trying to pitch with the pain and nothing worked," Perez said. "I understand that there were a lot of expectations for me, and I was thinking about those expectations because I had signed a big contract and I wanted to be better than the past years. But I got hurt and I wasn't able to be consistent."

Ultimately, the Mets deemed Perez a lost cause. They opted to release him in March 2011 and swallow the final year of his deal.

The Nationals pounced on Perez, but having a stable rotation, they stowed him at Double-A Harrisburg, where he spent a sobering, humbling season.

"I was waiting for a call, but it never came," Perez said.

Perez fashioned a 3.09 ERA in 16 games with the Senators. More importantly, under the guidance of manager Tony Beasley and pitching coach Randy Tomlin, Perez unearthed how he could again make a living at the big league level.

Left-handers have batted considerably worse against Perez throughout the hurler's career. He has limited them to a .227 average and a .681 OPS, compared to .249 and .786 for righties. Perez's coaches at Harrisburg suggested that he try a left-handed specialist role in winter ball.

"It comes to a point where you realize, 'What am I doing?' You have to realize what you need to do to improve yourself," said Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro. "It's everything about the player and how you go back to what you were and be successful. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'Hey, I need to make a change.'"

Before Perez pitched in winter ball, his wife gave birth to their first child, Olianna. The addition to the family provided Perez some long-awaited perspective.

"My daughter was born and it turned on the light for me," Perez said. "Then I went to winter ball, I started feeling good and my velocity started coming back."

In January 2012, the Mariners signed Perez to a Minor League deal, intent on using him out of the bullpen. Having an established, unwavering role with Seattle aided Perez's transition to the Northwest.

"It's one of those things that clicks and you say, 'Man, I wish I would have done that three or four years ago,'" Navarro said. "It's part of the game. It's part of learning about yourself and growing up and being a veteran."

Perez posted a 2.12 ERA in 33 relief appearances last season. He averaged 93.2 mph on his fastball. This year, with his heater hovering around 92 mph, Perez is toting a 1.59 ERA and fanning 12.7 batters per nine innings.

"It's a second career for him," said Seattle skipper Eric Wedge. "That's what we told him when we got him. That's what we hoped it would be and he's the one who has grabbed hold of it and run with it. And he's still not satisfied. He's working to get better."

The days of Perez toiling in trouble on the mound in New York are a distant memory. After all, Olianna only knows her father as an imposing lefty specialist.

"I'm sure she'll see some pictures of good moments and bad moments," Perez said, laughing.

Zack Meisel is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @zackmeisel.

Seattle Mariners, Oliver Perez