Last year behind him, Perez starts fresh with LA
After up-and-down season with Indians, reliever out to reestablish himself
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If all Chris Perez needs is a change of scenery, he's got it.
He's in Dodgers camp with a clean slate. He's not expected to live up to a big salary or save games, let alone a franchise.
He said he's here to reestablish himself as an effective Major League reliever. Like several new Dodgers, he said he is willing to take on a lesser role for the chance to play on a World Series contender.
He takes the blame for last year's struggles, saying he made mechanical changes so he could pitch through injuries, but those changes turned into bad habits that turned pitches into home runs (11 in 54 innings). By September, he had lost the closer job in Cleveland. At the end of November, he was released.
He said -- and he's shown so far in a few impressive bullpen sessions -- that he's healthy.
"Last year was a learning experience, and I learned I can't pitch through [injuries]," Perez said. "I felt I had to stay out there. I feel a lot better now. I feel I can pitch back to that [All-Star] level. But I've still got to show it. I'm excited for the games to start. I've got a little chip on my shoulder. I've got something to prove."
He even thanked the Indians for releasing him quickly, giving him extra time to find a new home.
"No hard feelings," he said. "I understand why they did what they did. They could have non-tendered me much later."
The home he found is in a Dodgers bullpen where 20-save seasons are almost mandatory for admittance. In addition to Perez, Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Brandon League, J.P. Howell and Javy Guerra have each done it in the big leagues.
Perez, 28, had 25 saves for the Indians last year, but he also had a career-high 4.33 ERA, a shoulder strain that cost him most of Spring Training, then a month before the All-Star break with discomfort in a different part of the shoulder, and a misdemeanor marijuana arrest.
"Just one of those up and down years," he said.
He also had a $7.3 million salary last year that projected to increase to $9 million in 2014 through arbitration, which was the main reason the Indians cut him loose. The Dodgers signed him for a $2.3 million base and as much as $6 million more in incentives if he appears in 60 games and finishes 55 of them.
Perez's salary climbed to $7.3 million after back-to-back All-Star seasons in 2011-12. A former first-round pick of St. Louis, he was dealt to Cleveland in 2009 for Mark DeRosa and emerged as the Indians closer in 2010. He has 132 career saves, more than Jansen or League or Howell or Guerra.
Perez said he knows he could have had a closer job elsewhere, but chose a lower profile role with the Dodgers.
"But for me, this is a good situation," he said. "It's fun to be part of a team like this."
It's fun, he said, to be in a bullpen as loaded as the Dodgers' appears to be.
"It's fun to imagine what the games will be like," he said. "The way our starting rotation stacks up, they get us as deep as the sixth inning and with all the arms we have in the bullpen, it's exciting to think about. And the [reputation] will get around the league. By the sixth or seventh inning, game's over. That's fun to think about."
Not much fun was last year's misdemeanor arrest, the coverage of which led Perez to impose a three-month media blackout. Like the injury, he said that's history.
"I don't think that was a distraction to me as a pitcher at all," he said. "I wasn't on the mound thinking, I've got to go to court. The mound was my sanctuary. I was always able to concentrate and focus on baseball. Now it's all behind me, everything legal is fulfilled and I've turned the page."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.