Forgive Eury Perez if he didn’t save the baseball from his first major league game on Saturday. The Nationals outfielder was unexpectedly sent into the game in the ninth inning to replace Jayson Werth, who was pulled because of leg cramping. The 22-year-old was nervous.
Because Werth made the final out of the eighth inning, Perez had little time to get ready. He ran out into center field to start the ninth inning of a tie game and Bryce Harper shifted over to right field. Perez had just been called up to the major leagues for the first time on Saturday, the first day rosters expanded.
The Nationals added him to the roster but would only offer limited playing time, mainly as a pinch runner, pinch hitter or defensive replacement to take advantage of his speed. Everyday playing time would be tough in a pennant race behind players with established roles. On the first day, Perez was already thrust into action.
“I felt a little pressure,” he said. “But once we got through a batter, I felt better. Overall, I felt good.”
His family back home in the Dominican Republic was watching on cable television, his mother his biggest cheerleader. Perez, signed by the Nationals in 2007 in his native country, spent six seasons in the minor leagues, developing and maturing even more this season after spending time in major league camp in spring training and in Class AAA Syracuse. He stole 51 bases across three minor leagues levels this season and hit .333 in 40 games at Syracuse.
“I can run, hit the ball and play defense,” he said following Saturday’s game. “That’s my game. They can use me here for that. I’ll focus on it and be ready.”
With two outs in the ninth inning, Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso lifted a ball to deep left-center field. Perez ranged far to his right and back, the ball settling into his glove for the final out of the inning. But Perez didn’t save it. Out of nervousness and habit, he said he tossed the ball away. So much for a keepsake from his first game in the majors.
“I threw it away,” he said.