Pérez shows off new curveball in spring debut

February 26th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Marlins wouldn’t have made the postseason in 2023 without then-rookie right-hander . Unfortunately for both Pérez and the club, he was relegated to the dugout over the final two weeks of the Marlins’ season due to an injury.

Pérez nearly hit triple digits on his fastball and introduced a new curveball grip in his return to the mound in Monday afternoon’s 1-1 Grapefruit League tie with the Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

“I was very, very, very sad that I wasn't able to help the team,” Pérez said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “I wasn't able to be there with the guys, but I'm really excited that I'm back here on the mound, very excited to pitch, continuing to work on those secondary pitches. So that's something that I have to continue working on and get excited for that during the Spring Training.”

Pérez, who doesn’t turn 21 until April 15, opened the outing with six straight four-seamers, including a 99.3 mph fastball that Dylan Carlson swung through for the first out. Following a scoreless first, Pérez allowed a sun-aided double and an RBI single with one out in the second. Manager Skip Schumaker pulled Pérez after his 38th pitch and third strikeout.

But it was Pérez’s new-look curveball that garnered the most attention. He and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. came to a mutual decision on the grip this spring, and he threw it three times with mixed results. While the location was off -- all three were balls -- the pitch showed less average velocity (from 81.2 to 75.3 mph) with more spin (up 137 rpm; 100 is considered noteworthy), average vertical drop (57 inches up from 41) and average horizontal movement (eight inches up from four) compared to last season.

“He's incredible,” veteran catcher Curt Casali said. “The life on his fastball is real. [It] feels like he's literally placing it in my glove. That's just how far his reach is. I thought his slider was really good today. Fastball location, I think you'd say he could probably do better. [He] had a really good curveball in the bullpen, it just didn't really translate into the game. We tried it a few times.

“And [we] didn't really have too many opportunities to throw a changeup, but in terms of first outing of spring, my first impression of catching him for the first time, I thought it was good. [It] probably could have been a no-run outing, but just a good first step for him.”

With ace and mentor Sandy Alcantara sidelined in 2024 due to Tommy John surgery and left-hander Braxton Garrett (left shoulder soreness) behind in his throwing program, Pérez and the other starters will need to pick up the slack. That’s nothing new for Pérez, who received the callup from Double-A on May 12, 2023, because of injuries to left-hander Trevor Rogers and right-hander Johnny Cueto, plus a revolving door of non-roster arms filling out the rotation.

At 20 years and 27 days old, Pérez became the youngest Dominican-born starting pitcher all-time. Through 11 starts, Pérez’s 2.36 ERA was the lowest for a pitcher 20 years old or younger in the Live Ball Era (minimum 50 innings). The Marlins always planned on being careful with him because of his lighter career workload, so the club temporarily shut him down before the All-Star break.

Upon his return on Aug. 7, Pérez posted a 4.26 ERA over his final eight starts before his season prematurely ended on Sept. 23 with left SI joint inflammation. He had completed five innings just three times during this span, as he nearly doubled his career high in innings (128 between the Minors and Majors).

Despite that stretch, Pérez would have been among the leaders for qualified rookie pitchers had he pitched a full season:

  • ERA (second in NL, third in MLB)
  • WHIP (second in NL, third in MLB)
  • Average against (second in NL, second in MLB)
  • K/9 (second in NL, third in MLB)

So how can Pérez get better?

“I think that question, he needs to answer that,” Alcantara said. “From my eyes, I can see that he's got a great fastball, he could compete. I don't know what he thinks about his body, about his mind. I think he just needs to grow a little bit more. But I think he's going to be good.”

The next step in Pérez’s progression will be staying healthy over the course of a 162-game season. In order to do so, the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder worked out daily for 3-4 hours over the winter to build muscle.

“Physically, he's still growing,” Schumaker said. “He's 20 years old. He's literally probably still growing. The stuff can get obviously sharper and secondary pitches landing them early in counts, that type of thing. He's still working on being a complete pitcher, and it's just not out-talenting the league.”