Of all the things you don't want to hear from a manager four starts into a three-year, $36 million contract, Jerry Manuel's comments after Sunday's 8-1 loss to the Nationals have to be right at the top of the list. Oliver Perez lasted less than five innings for the third time in four starts, and now has more earned runs allowed than innings pitched this season.
"I'm really, really concerned about him right now," Manuel said. "I don't know what we'll do. It's something that has me concerned."
So concerned that there's been talk about moving him to the bullpen or sending him to the minors. The first move doesn't make any sense, as he won't pitch regularly enough to work his way through his problems, but the second move would be a killer PR hit to take so early in a season and a contract that mean the world to Omar Minaya and the Mets.
They're in a similar position that the Yankees found themselves in with Chien-Ming Wang last week. Perez is killing the Mets once every five days, which is draining the bullpen and there doesn't appear to be an easy fix to whatever is afflicting him.
Perez may be even worse off than Wang, since this isn't the first time in his career that he's lost the ability to pitch all at once. After a breakout 2004 season, he crashed and burned to the point that he was a fringe player in the trade that sent Xavier Nady to Pittsburgh less than two years later.
For now, Perez is staying put. They've got a big series in Philadelphia this weekend, and Perez has historically pitched well against the Phillies. He remains scheduled for a Saturday start, which may be the last we see of him if things don't go well.
It's a big risk, but the Mets are counting heavily on Perez. When they signed him, they had to hope that he'd put his inconsistency behind him as he approached his 28th birthday. He may have, although consistently terrible probably isn't what they had in mind as an alternative.