It was important for Red Sox pitcher Martin Perez to finish strong in his final summer camp start Monday evening, despite facing largely minor leaguers just getting back into the rhythm of baseball. Perez needed to find a rhythm of his own heading into the 2020 season.
In six scoreless innings, Perez, a lefthander, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter. Perez’s issue has been control this month, but he had solid command of all his pitches, and his changeup had good movement down in the zone.
He struck out top prospect Jeter Downs to end his evening.
“I feel good,” Perez said. “I found the rhythm on all my pitches and my delivery, too. I enjoyed the six innings that I threw and I think it’s time to compete.”
Competing in spring training — or, for this instance, summer camp — can be tough for a veteran. The stakes aren’t as high as someone trying to make a team. Most veterans use this as a time to hone their craft and pace their progression. But the three-week camp and 60-game season has forced each player to ramp up their workload quicker, which is tough. Particularly in Perez’s case. He’s battled elbow issues since 2017.
“I feel 100 percent,” Perez said. “I believe in my stuff again and I’m healthy. That’s the most important thing.”
The Sox need Perez to give them quality innings. He’s had some solid years, but registered a combined 5.49 ERA in 250⅔ innings with the Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins the last two seasons. With Eduardo Rodriguez not on the Opening Day roster as he continues his progression following COVID-19, it’s imperative Perez is consistent.
“It’s important, but at the same time, we have to do the job,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s here or not. We have to go out there and play good baseball. The responsibility is the same.”
Perez will make his first start Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles.
Who’s up first?
The Red Sox haven’t figured out what they’ll do in the leadoff spot. Andrew Benintendi could bat first followed by Rafael Devers; that would mean back-to-back lefties at the top of the order, but that’s not something Roenicke is against.
“I may go with the two lefthanders and give those guys a chance to do it,” Roenicke said.
Or, they could flip-flop Jose Peraza and Kevin Pillar at that spot against lefthanded pitchers.
“I know Pillar can do it,” Roenicke said. “I feel good about him up there against lefthanders. Then, we’ll kind of see. We’ll see how Peraza hits. He’s a possibility. He’s a guy that I’m familiar with that used to be a good base stealer.”
Pillar at the leadoff spot would certainly be a head-scratcher. He has just a .296 career on-base percentage; against lefties, it’s just .313. Peraza doesn’t walk much either and has a .312 career OBP, but gets on a little bit better against lefties (.333).
Peraza might be the better fit if the Sox want a base stealer at the top of the order. From 2016–18, he registered three straight years of 20-plus stolen bags. Alex Verdugo is another candidate, yet he’s struggled in this summer camp to find his timing.
“I think down the road, he has everything you would need in a leadoff hitter,” Roenicke said. “When he starts finding his rhythm and timing and gets confident, I think we can put him anywhere.”
Trouble at home
The Toronto Blue Jays are still searching for a home after Canada’s government barred the Blue Jays from playing at the Rogers Centre due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the United States, Canada flattened the curve, with just 322 new cases on July 14. The US had more than 63,000 on July 19. As a result, the Canadian government didn’t want to risk teams from the US coming to play in Toronto.
“I get it,” Roenicke said. “I don’t know if we open things up too quick in this country, and that’s why we had the spikes in areas. It’s hard to say. I think you can do the right things and you’re still going to have a spike. So, it’s hard to say why these things happen, but I get Canada not wanting to have that happen to them. They’ve got a really good thing going right now. They’ve been able to minimize the virus.”
PNC Park in Pittsburgh is reportedly the leading ballpark to host at least some of the Blue Jays’ games.
Possible change in the flight plan
On July 10, the Orioles named lefthander John Means to start against the Sox in Friday’s season opener, but that could change because of arm fatigue. Means missed his last start and has not thrown since.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Monday that no decision had been made, but the team would be “conservative” with Means. Baltimore is considering lefthanders Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, and righthander Tom Eshelman for Friday.
Means was 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA in five starts against the Sox last season.
Infielder Travis Shaw is on Toronto’s roster for the two exhibition games. Shaw hit .251 with 29 homers and 107 RBIs for the Sox in 2015-16 before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he topped 30 homers in back-to-back seasons before a disastrous 2019. He signed with the Blue Jays in December . . . Xander Bogaerts tweaked his hamstring in Sunday night’s intrasquad game, but will be good to go for Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Jays, in which Ryan Weber start on the mound. The club still isn’t sure who will start Wednesday, but Roenicke said Zack Godley will pitch at least 2-3 innings. Both games will be televised at 7:30 p.m. on NESN.