LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - During the final moments of Oliver Perez's fourth-inning meltdown Sunday, the Champion Stadium loudspeakers blared "The Twilight Zone" theme. In reality, Perez was standing on the mound, but his head always seems to be in some alternate universe that defies explanation.
Perez is thoroughly unpredictable, and for that reason, it will be very difficult for the Mets to trust him in any role - starter, long reliever or specialist.
Manager Terry Collins pledged at the start of spring training that Perez would be given a chance to crack the rotation, and he did not retract that statement after yesterday's wobbly performance in which Perez allowed four hits and four runs in two innings.
But with plenty of more reliable arms in the rotation mix, at this point, Perez should be more worried about getting released than becoming a starting pitcher again.
"We have some legitimate candidates," Collins said, "and we told him he would get a chance. I don't necessarily know if one outing is a chance."
Maybe not, but when asked about Perez's next turn, Collins said he likely will start one of the split-squad games March 8. Before that? The manager talked about finding an inning of work for him somewhere.
It already appears as though Perez is not a priority unless he can find a way to boost his velocity in the coming days.
The Mets' reports from the Mexican League had Perez throwing between 88 and 92 mph. Sunday, his first pitch was 86 mph, but his fastball hovered more in the 83-mph range.
Perez did throw a number of cut fastballs and had some success with his low-70s slider. Still, the lack of velocity, even at this early stage, is a concern.
Perez explained that "everybody is kind of tired" after the first two weeks of spring training, and he seemed to hit a wall in the second of his two innings.
He needed only 12 pitches to make it through the third inning, throwing nine for strikes. He gave up a hard-hit double to Joe Mather and Martin Prado's RBI single, a bouncer that skipped through the left side of the infield.
It wasn't great, but at least Perez threw strikes in the third. With two outs in the fourth - after failing to complete a potential 3-6-1 double play - Perez walked three straight, just as he had done to force home the go-ahead run in the 14th inning of the 2010 finale.
"I walked three guys in a row, but that's part of the game," he said. "Sometimes it's going to happen again, maybe next time, and you never know."
That's the problem. The Mets never know with Perez, and can they really afford to have a $12-million enigma on the roster?
Before the game, Collins talked with Perez in the outfield and delivered a simple message: throw strikes. For whatever reason, he couldn't keep doing it. In the fourth inning, Perez threw 32 pitches - only 16 for strikes - and probably would have been pulled if Mather hadn't gotten thrown out in a rundown on Shawn Bowman's bases-loaded single.
Perez isn't used to auditioning for a job in spring training, and he admitted to being a little jittery. "I'm sure his stomach was churning today," Collins said.
But unless Perez finds a way to stop giving the Mets indigestion, he'll have zero chance of pitching in any games that count for them.
Notes & quotes: Chris Young decided not to try out his new splitter against the Braves but still pitched two perfect innings in the Mets' 5-4 victory. Russ Adams, vying for a backup infield job, smacked a three-run homer in the eighth inning . . . In Port St. Lucie, Chris Capuano struck out four in three innings and Jason Bay had two RBIs in the Mets' 7-1 victory over Michigan at Digital Domain Park.