Ryan Perry says the idea of becoming a starting pitcher first came from him. The life of a reliever – having to be ready daily, the adrenaline spike when the bullpen phone rings, not lifting or running as much as he wanted – wasn’t “all it’s cracked up to be,” he said last week.
So, before the Nationals optioned him to Class AAA Syracuse in early June, Perry called Nationals Assistant General Manager Bryan Minniti and told him how he felt. A week later, director of player development Doug Harris, Perry and his agent Joel Wolfe had a conference call, and decided it was time to start converting Perry into a starting pitcher.
On Tuesday, Perry made his third-ever start as a professional baseball player for Class AA Harrisburg, allowing one run on three hits over five innings, and lowering his ERA to 2.31 in 11 2/3 innings overall. Slowly, he is building up his arm strength, pitching deeper into the game each time.
Perry said he was surprised at how receptive the Nationals were to the idea of him converting into a starter and that, in fact, they considered doing so in spring training. As an experiment, the Nationals will see if maybe this is the way to maximize the potential of Perry, a 21st overall pick in 2008.
“In four years of pro ball, I don’t think I threw more than 2 2/3,” Perry said. “Down here, I need to get my pitch count up, work on my pitches and really feel my mechanics. Being a reliever, going out one inning, you don’t exactly feel the repetition of every pitch. So like I said, I told them, I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer this ball club and I think me starting will help me utilize everything.”
Perry, known for his power arm, was once a starter in college, at Arizona, before being converted into a reliever his junior season. Detroit drafted him 21st overall in the 2008 draft and he quickly ascended to the majors as a reliever in 2009. Over two seasons in the majors, he had a 3.69 ERA over 124 1/3 innings. Last season with the Tigers, however, he tailed off, allowing more hits and striking out fewer batters with a 5.35 ERA over 37 innings.
Last December, the Nationals acquired Perry in a trade from Detroit for reliever Collin Balester. Perry spent all of May in the Nationals’ bullpen and was, generally, ineffective. In eight innings, he allowed 12 hits, nine runs and two home runs for a then-team-high 10.13 ERA.
In last week’s start, Perry showed flashes of his talent, striking out five of the 15 batters he faced and consistently hitting 93 mph on the scoreboard’s radar gun display, which seemed low. He also, however, displayed some of his inconsistency. He walked three batters, two consecutively, and allowed a run-scoring single in the third inning and a solo home run in the fourth. He needed 57 pitches to get through 3 2/3 innings, throwing only 34 of those for strikes.
Perry said it will take time to get used to the increased workload and grow comfortable with the feel of all his pitches. As a reliever at the beginning of this season, he primarily threw a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. Now, he has added a cutter (“it might be one of my better pitches now,” he said) and a two-seam fastball.
“I know I have great stuff,” he said. “I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of getting out there.”
The long-term plan as a starter, Perry said, is unclear. If the Nationals needed to call up a reliever, he said he is flexible and willing to pitch as one.
“Ideally I wanted to start to be a starter,” Perry said. “But however it plays out, I’ll try to make the best of it.”
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