A relief pitcher most of his life, Nationals farmhand Ryan Perry is doing everything he can to show the front office his versatility and willingness to adapt to any role. In the Arizona Fall League, that means starting games as a member of the rotation and working on incorporating new pitches into his repertoire.
The 2008 first-rounder struck out four batters over four perfect innings, but his Salt River Rafters ended up falling to the Surprise Saguaros, 5-4, in 10 innings on Tuesday night.
"I'm in their hands and I'm willing to do whatever they want me to do," said Perry. "They want me to get some more innings under my belt and give myself a chance to work on some things like my fastball command."
Perry threw 28 of 42 pitches for strikes, and he retired half of the 12 batters he faced on three pitches or fewer. The performance was in contrast to his first two starts of the fall, which saw the California native sporting an ERA of 12.60, a WHIP of 2.40, and almost as many walks (four) as strikeouts (five).
Life as a starter in the AFL, Perry acknowledged, had been tough. He allowed two runs on four hits against Scottsdale in his first start on Oct. 11, and he surrendered five runs on four hits and a pair of free passes against Peoria six days later.
At Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday, things were different for the 6-foot-4 25-year-old.
"Today I was focusing on my fastball," said Perry, who threw an additional 15 pitches in the bullpen after being replaced in the fifth inning. "I was throwing my two-seamer a lot last time, but I was flying open and that caused everything to run arm-side of the plate.
"I would evaluate it pretty high tonight. I threw my four-seam fastball more, and I definitely have better command with it. I was getting ahead of batters and I was mixing my off-speed pitches in there."
Selected by the Tigers 21st overall in 2008, Perry has been used in a variety of roles on a number of teams over his five-year career.
He worked exclusively out of the bullpen in his first four professional seasons, including in middle relief and the back end of games in non-save situations. During his time in the Tigers organization, he went 5-6 with a 4.07 ERA in 161 1/3 innings over 149 Major League relief appearances.
Perry gave up an 11th-inning grand slam to Texas' Nelson Cruz in Game 2 of last year's American League Championship Series.
In December, the Tigers traded Perry to the Washington Nationals for right-hander Collin Balester. Perry started the year out of the bullpen for Triple-A Syracuse, but the Nats called him up in both April and May following injuries to Brad Lidge and Drew Storen.
By late June, however, the Nationals decided to try and use Perry as a starting pitcher with Double-A Harrisburg. It marked the first time in his pro career than he was not used in relief. In 13 appearances, he went 2-4 with one complete game, a 2.84 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 73 innings.
While Perry doesn't know exactly how the Nationals will use him in 2013 -- on what team or in which role -- he knows the areas he needs to improve.
The team asked him to develop his curveball this offseason, and Perry has also been working with his pitching coach on introducing a cutter.
"Ever since I turned into a starting pitcher, they told me they wanted something closer to a curveball than a slider," said Perry, who said his new offering is closer to a slurve than anything else.
"My cutter is kinda like my slider back in the day, but it's harder and it has a later break. I just started throwing it this year. They told me they liked my cutter, but that I shouldn't throw it all the time."
On Tuesday, Surprise starter Seth Blair allowed one unearned run on three hits and two walks while striking out five batters over three innings, but he did not factor in the decision.
MLB.com's No. 49 prospect Kolten Wong, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, went 3-for-5 with three RBIs out of the No. 2 spot, and shortstop Alex McClure (Royals) added two hits, two runs scored and an RBI from the bottom of the lineup.
The decisive score of the game came in the 10th. Arizona right-hander Eric Smith, pitching his second inning of relief, allowed a one-out single to Wong, followed by three consecutive walks to force home what proved to be the winning run.
Salt River's Santos Rodriguez (White Sox) worked around a fifth-inning walk to keep the combined no-hit bid intact, but the Saguaros broke through against Blue Jays' fourth-rounder Sam Dyson, who yielded a run on three hits and a walk over two-thirds of an inning.
Rafters center fielder Brian Goodwin, a supplemental first-round pick last June, was 3-for-4 with his third homer of the Fall League, and fellow Nationals prospect Matthew Skole added a two-run longball.
"He is a very aggressive player," said Perry. "You know what to expect from him, he's a great athlete. He brought his A-game today and he tracks every single pitch."
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com.