Mets pitcher Oliver Perez throws in the seventh inning against...

Mets pitcher Oliver Perez throws in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Citifield. (May 21, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - For the record, Oliver Perez arrived here a full two days early.

With the Mets' pitchers and catchers required to report Tuesday, and their first workout scheduled for Thursday, Perez rolled up to the team's minor-league complex a few minutes before 9 a.m. Sunday.

Dressed in a white warm-up suit, he hopped out of the passenger side of a white Ford Expedition, walked up to the clubhouse door and pulled on the handle.

It was locked.

Yes, on the first day that Perez was ready to begin working out, to start what could be a futile attempt to make the Opening Day roster, the Mets' complex was closed. So Perez had no choice but to head back over to Digital Domain Stadium, grab some shorts and a T-shirt for his own off-site regimen, and plan to return Monday.

In many ways, that lost feeling was typical for Perez, who could not feel more alienated - by Mets management and fans - as he prepares for the third and final season of his $36-million contract. General manager Sandy Alderson has said that eating the remaining $12 million will not be a problem if Perez fails to earn a roster spot.

"I know what I got to do to get back to show everybody what kind of pitcher I am," Perez said. "I have to prove it to myself, because in the past two years, I've had injuries and all that kind of stuff. I think that's really tough for anybody. I think you have to be a grown man and understand sometimes it's really tough."

As far as the Mets are concerned, it already might be too late. Shortly after Alderson was hired, the GM said he planned to watch Perez pitch in the Mexican winter league, but he never went. None of the higher-ups did, not even pitching coach Dan Warthen, who visited Perez in his hometown of Culiacán last year. The highest-ranking Met who made the trip was Rafael Arroyo - the team's second bullpen catcher - who served as a personal coach for Perez in Mexico.

When asked if he was upset by the Mets' lack of interest, Perez shrugged and replied, "It's kind of far to go to Mexico."

Maybe it's better they didn't. Aside from a 10-inning scoreless streak, Perez struggled in typical "Bad Ollie" fashion, with 23 walks and 30 hits in 33 innings. He had a 5.18 ERA in his 11 outings, including six starts, and struck out 26.

"It was a pretty big challenge for me because I needed to pitch," said Perez, who was 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA and a 2.07 WHIP for the Mets in 2010. "The last three months of the season, I didn't pitch a lot."

That's an understatement. After Perez returned from the disabled list, former manager Jerry Manuel used him only six times from July 21 to the end of the season for a total of 7 2/3 innings - in which he allowed eight runs, 11 hits and nine walks. Manuel called on Perez for the 14th inning of the final game, after a 27-day layoff, and he walked Justin Maxwell with the bases loaded to end it.

Perez earlier refused a demotion to Triple-A to work on things. But Perez passed on the chance to blame Manuel or former GM Omar Minaya - "I was upset," he admitted - and spoke Sunday about another shot at redemption, his last with the Mets.

"When you're doing your job, and you don't have anything negative in your mind, everything can change," he said. "The media can say a lot of stuff, the Mets, the fans. But you have to take everything positive. I know they want to see the Oliver that was before and I want to see it, too. That's why I'm excited to be there and trying to take this like a challenge. I know the past two years, I didn't pitch well, the way everybody wants me to do it and the way I want to do it. But I'm healthy now and I'm ready to go."

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