SAN DIEGO - Oliver Perez said again Monday that he will not accept a demotion to Triple-A Buffalo despite the Mets' repeated efforts to change his mind. But Jerry Manuel ramped up his public pressure on the $36-million lefthander for the second straight day, and the climate in the clubhouse soon could become too uncomfortable for him to remain.
Perez was wary of the crowd of reporters waiting for him before last night's game, and after he finally answered the latest round of questions about his status, a handful of Mets sitting on the nearby couches were very interested in the activity at his locker. "Que pasa, Ollie?" asked Jose Reyes, wondering what was going on. Perez then walked over to the group, which also included Angel Pagan and Jenrry Mejia, to explain in Spanish.
Although many of the players like Perez personally, including the widely respected Johan Santana, there is a growing sentiment that Perez does not belong on the 25-man roster if he cannot help the Mets win.
"It's an individual decision," one Met said about Perez's reluctance to leave the majors. "But up here, it's about performance. If you don't pitch, there's not much you can do."
When Perez was asked about a report in the New York Post that had two unnamed players ripping him for staying in the majors, he grew a little agitated. "Who's saying that?" Perez said. "Nobody told me that."
Perez arrives early to run in the outfield before most games and then does conditioning drills with rubber cords to keep his arms and shoulders strong. He also throws "touch-and-feel" sessions almost daily.
But when it comes to actually appearing in games, Manuel has branded Perez an outcast. After Perez allowed three runs in two innings Saturday night to the Brewers, including a two-run homer by Corey Hart, Manuel said the next morning that Perez will be used in "extra-inning" situations, adding that it would be "tough" to find him a spot in which to pitch.
Manuel found one Monday night, bringing Perez into a game in which the Mets trailed the Padres 15-6. Perez allowed a single by Jerry Hairston Jr. and a sacrifice fly by David Eckstein in the sixth, gave up a solo homer by Chase Headley in the seventh and allowed a two-out RBI single by Lance Zawadzki in the eighth to make it 18-6. He did induce a pair of double-play balls in the seventh and eighth.
When asked Monday if carrying Perez as dead weight on the roster is hurting the team, Manuel thought for a moment, then replied, "Only if we need a long reliever."
Presumably, he was trying to be funny. As for whether the Perez situation could become a distraction - as it clearly was Monday in the clubhouse - Manuel was blunt.
"I think what happens is it can become one," he said. "I think what's happening is that he's not getting regular work, therefore he's probably not getting better. That's probably more the key.''
Manuel has made no secret of his desire to have Perez demoted, and another Mets official stated the obvious in saying that it "would be the best for both parties involved." The only person who does not see the value in such a move is Perez. And with more than $20 million due him through 2011, releasing him is not an option at this point.
"I want to keep doing the same thing, to keep working," Perez said. "I know everything is going to get back."
Perez might be the only one who truly believes that. On Saturday, his fastball maxed out at 89 mph but mostly hovered at 87, well below his most effective stretches at 94 to 96 mph in 2008. Pitching coach Dan Warthen has examined video of Perez from his better days and said his delivery is identical - except for the missing velocity.
"We've seen two years and 2,000 pitches from him and we still haven't seen it," Warthen said. "You would think - even if it's by accident - that we'd see it once or twice."