Collins: Perez has shot to make rotation

Oliver Perez in spring training. (Feb. 18, 2010)

Oliver Perez in spring training. (Feb. 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday file / Thomas A. Ferrara

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Oliver Perez actually made it into the Mets' minor-league complex Monday after finding the clubhouse locked a day earlier. And better yet, he discovered that the door to the rotation might be open to him.

Perez met with general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins on Monday to "come up with a plan that everybody was on the same page with," Collins said. He said that plan will give Perez a shot at reclaiming his spot in the rotation or, failing that, perhaps becoming a lefthanded specialist.

"He said I want a chance to make this club as a starting pitcher and I said you'll get that opportunity," Collins said. "If it's not working, we'll talk about it. As we get into camp, we can always make the switch. He said that's fine. I said, 'Whatever it is, we're all going to buy in, be on the same page and move forward.' He was very upbeat about the whole thing."

Perez could use a fresh start, and now that he's in the last season of his three-year, $36-million contract with the Mets, there's plenty at stake from a personal standpoint.

"I think this year is very important for me," Perez said. "I know I'm still young. I'm 29, and I have a long way to go. I think I'm not going to give up. I feel strong and I know what I have to do to get better and be the same way I was before."

Although he was blocked in his attempt to work out Sunday, Perez was back again early Monday. He threw a bullpen session to Josh Thole as pitching coach Dan Warthen watched from behind the mound.

Warthen didn't travel to Mexico to see Perez during winter league play but relied on scouting reports from former Mets bullpen catcher Rafael Arroyo, who served as a personal coach for Perez.

The verdict? Perez was used only six times in the last nine weeks of the 2010 regular season, and Warthen believes he gained strength once he began to build up innings in Mexico. By early January, his velocity jumped up into the range of 88 to 92 mph.

As for yesterday's bullpen session, Warthen noticed a difference from the Perez who struggled last season, if only on a very basic level.

"I thought that he looked better today than he did at any time last year," Warthen said.

When asked to specify what had changed, he said: "I thought the ball came out of his hand better. I thought he gave the same kind of effort last year, but I didn't see the same kind of velocity, so I was very encouraged by the way he was throwing the baseball today."

Coming off two injury-marred seasons, Perez knows he's on shaky ground as he enters spring training, with the very real possibility he could be released before Opening Day.

Warthen said Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese have locked up the top three spots in the rotation, so Perez will battle Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, Pat Misch and maybe Jenrry Mejia for one of the remaining two jobs.

But it's not unthinkable that Perez could win a rotation spot, and Collins insists he is not carrying any prejudice against him into the next six weeks.

"I'm going to try to make my own evaluations," he said. "I have all the numbers. I've heard all the stories. Now I'm going to make my own evaluation. No disrespect to anybody else or what I've heard about him; I believe that they're good baseball people talking. But you know what? People do change sometimes."

Collins did point out, however, that Perez has to be committed. That's been the problem. Perez has been an enigma since the day he signed that three-year extension, and there's little evidence this year will be any different - meaning he must convince people otherwise.

"He wants to regain what he was," Collins said. "And I salute that. I told him, 'You have to want to do it. You have to buy into it. If you don't, it's not going to work.' "

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