GOODYEAR, Ariz. — On page 169 of the Indians’ new media guide there’s a quick recap of Chris Perez’s 2012. It reads: “All-Star had another solid season on the mound.”
Off it, it was anything but stellar.
Perez lost control.
If he wasn’t railing at Cleveland fans for not supporting the team, the colorful closer was criticizing the team’s owners for not spending money. He irritated opponents on social media and with primal screams and fist pumps, and got caught on video yelling obscenities at a fan taunting him in Oakland.
He saved 39 games, but Perez couldn’t stop himself. He got into trouble far worse than any late-inning jam he ever encountered.
“It got away from me,” he said Thursday, sitting at his locker as teammates trickled into the clubhouse following a morning workout. “Hopefully, none of that happens this year.”
This season, Perez promises the only heat he’ll deliver will be to the plate.
With an offseason to reflect on what transpired during Cleveland’s miserable 68-94 season, and an equally depressing one for the 27-year-old, Perez said he’s learned some valuable lessons.
It may be too late for him to take back anything he said or change his past, so Perez will focus on what’s ahead.
“I don’t have any regrets, but I definitely could have handled it all differently,” he said. “I definitely don’t foresee myself doing that this year. There shouldn’t be any reason for it. We’ve got what we asked for — a better team.”
With his scraggly beard and long hair, Perez certainly looks the part of the rebel right-hander he has become. With the ball in his hand, he’s fearless, blowing batters away with a wicked fastball that has allowed him to record 98 saves the past three seasons.
But it was some barbs he fired at Indians fans last May that sparked months of drama.
After he was booed during a home game at Progressive Field, Perez vented about the club’s poor attendance. He questioned a lack of support from Cleveland fans and wondered why they didn’t back the Indians like they did the Browns, one of the NFL’s worst teams.
Perez went on to hypothesize that maybe free agents stayed away from Cleveland because of the fans’ indifference.
With a chance to explain his comments the next day, and perhaps even apologize, Perez instead took things a step further.
“I was just fed up with everything,” he said. “But that’s how I felt. It was all heart."
At various points during the season, he met with team president Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, who did all they could to reel Perez in. He had become a distraction, divisive to Indians fans — some who loved him, others who wanted him traded — and the club sought to stop things from getting any worse.
Perez seemed to get the message, but late in the season, as the losses mounted and the Indians fell from contention, he complained in an interview that owners Paul and Larry Dolan weren’t making the necessary financial commitment to keep the team competitive in the AL Central.
Those remarks set off another round of meetings, and Perez said that during that time he didn’t care what happened.
“Honestly, toward the end of the year it got tiring,” he said. “The season was whatever, and by August I was depressed. I wasn’t myself. I didn’t want to come to the field. I didn’t want to talk to (the reporters) because everything I was saying was getting twisted or somebody was making it into an article. I didn’t go on Twitter for a month. It wasn’t fun.”
When the season ended, Perez thought his days with the Indians might be over. His name was tossed around in numerous trade rumors and Perez figured he would be starting over somewhere else. However, in early October he got a phone call from Terry Francona, who told him he was going to manage the Indians.
Francona was aware of the theater around Perez, but he didn’t feel the need to dredge it up. The damage was done.
As far as Francona was concerned, Perez has a clean slate.
“I didn’t really feel the need to dissect all that,” Francona said. “I just wanted to say hello and get to know him. It really never came up and I don’t expect it to again. ... He really wants to win. I think his heart is in the right place.”
Perez appreciated Francona’s willingness to let him explain his actions.
“He wanted to see that it wasn’t just me being a blowhard or trying to talk my way out of town, it was really coming from a good spot,” he said. “I want to win. I told him I was just frustrated, and just like the team in the second half, I went downhill. He said, ‘It’s a new season,’ and if anything is bothering me, he wants to hear it first.”
Perez wants to focus on only the strike zone this season — and stay positive.
If there are empty seats at Progressive Field, he’ll focus on the ones that are filled. He’ll keep the trash talk to a minimum, and if he finishes off a win with a strikeout, he’ll make sure any gestures won’t become ammunition for the other team.
Still, he won’t change everything.
“I’m going to be me,” he said.
Perez hasn’t spoken to any members of the Dolan family since they spent $117 million on free agents, a startling splurge that may push the Indians back into contention. For a long period, Perez thought he’d be pitching elsewhere, sent away for speaking his mind.
Now that he’s staying, he plans to behave.
“I’m in it to win it and they should be too,” he said. “That’s how I feel and their actions this winter spoke volumes. Hopefully they’re happy with me.
“They kept me around, so I can’t be doing everything wrong.”
- The Indians open the exhibition season today at Goodyear Ballpark against the Cincinnati Reds. Francona’s first lineup of the spring will have CF Michael Bourn batting leadoff followed by SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Jason Kipnis, 1B Nick Swisher, LF Michael Brantley, C Carlos Santana, DH Mark Reynolds, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and RF Drew Stubbs. Starters will play three innings.
- RHP Giovanni Soto will start on the mound.
- Francona said it’s not essential to have a left-hander in his starting rotation. “I’d rather have a good pitcher than a lefty or righty,” he said. “The idea is to have a pitcher who gets guys out.”