CHICAGO | Odalis Perez, in all likelihood, won't be a part of the Washington Nationals' rotation in 2009. The veteran left-hander was a last-minute signing during spring training when the Nationals needed some pitching help, and he always has been a temporary seat-filler until the organization is ready to hand the ball to its prospects.
But that time hasn't arrived, so Perez takes the mound every five days, often giving the Nationals a chance to win but occasionally coming up short as he did Saturday.
The primary culprit in the Nationals' 9-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs, Perez pitched shaky early and succumbed during a four-run fourth that sealed the game's outcome.
“I didn't have it today,” Perez said.
Perez gave up five runs, four earned, in 4 1/3 innings - but his teammates didn't produce much offense against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (15-5) - and Nationals relievers gave up four runs the rest of the way on two home runs.
The Nationals' two-game winning streak ended, and the problems that have plagued them for much of the season were again present.
But the preeminent story line on this muggy afternoon involved Perez. At his best, the 31-year-old has given manager Manny Acta six innings and two or three earned runs allowed. But at his worst, he has gotten himself into all kinds of predicaments, perhaps the most memorable of them coming July 8, when he was ejected after he was called for two balks in one inning.
After that game, Perez blasted Angel Hernandez, the umpire who called the balks, calling him “just stupid, an idiot” and insisting Hernandez had it out for him.
The two crossed paths again Saturday for the first time since that game at Nationals Park, with Hernandez stationed at first base. Fearful his pitcher might still have hard feelings, Acta spoke to Perez on Friday and urged him to let it go.
“The game is bigger than Odalis Perez and Angel Hernandez,” the manager said.
In the end, there was no confrontation between the two. Perez made a few pickoff moves to first base, the same kind that prompted the balk calls last month, but they proved insignificant.
“You know what, whatever happened between me and Angel is in the past,” Perez said. “I wasn't even concerned about he was at first base or that I was afraid to throw over, nothing like that. I wasn't concerned.”
Perez's bigger concern was his health - he said his stomach felt sick before the game - and his inability to stay out of jams. The Cubs put eight men on base during the first three innings, and though Perez wriggled his way out without allowing a run, it seemed Chicago would break through.
”When you're facing a lineup like they have and playing in this ballfield, you just can't be playing with fire for so long,” Acta said. “Sooner or later, they were going to get to him.”
Which they did in the fourth. Two singles and a walk brought one run home, and then cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez hit the first of his two three-run homers.
During that inning, Perez (5-10) cut his left thumb, a minor injury that perhaps added to his ineffectiveness. And by the time Alfonso Soriano doubled home another run in the fifth to put the Cubs ahead 5-0, Perez was out and the Nationals were headed to a blowout loss.
There are five weeks remaining in the season and thus six more available starts for each member of the rotation.
Perez is likely to be bumped in favor of a rookie at some point, though for now the organization will continue to give the veteran pitcher a chance to win every fifth day.
“We owe it to him because he's been solid for us the whole season,” Acta said. “He's been a good citizen and helped some of our younger guys here. So unless we change our mind in the last month, he's going to stay there.”