Oliver Perez roughed up in spring debut

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Oliver Perez's fate does not seem in question. Not if outings like Sunday's appearance against the Atlanta Braves persist. The only question is which date before April 1 the New York Mets decide to pull the plug.

Perez, owed $12 million in the final season of a three-year, $36 million deal, surrendered four runs on four hits and three walks while striking out three batters in two innings in his first Grapefruit League appearance.

He went to full counts and walked three straight Braves with two outs in his second frame to force in a run. Perez then surrendered a two-run single to ex-Mets farmhand Shawn Bowman. The outing mercifully ended when Joe Mather got trapped in a rundown between second and third base on Bowman's hit.

"My first outing, and I was excited and nervous at the same time," Perez said. "I think that's very important for everybody to make that first step. That was not the one I wanted, but I just have to take it easy and try to be ready for next game."

Perez's fastball sat at 88 mph during the Mexican winter league, and he touched 92 mph.

However, after hitting 86 mph on ESPN's Wide World of Sports stadium gun with his first pitch Sunday, he mostly settled in at 83 mph.

In fairness, Perez was concentrating on throwing cut fastballs and sliders. Still, that type of velocity, coupled with control issues, would spell doom against major league hitters during the regular season.

Not that Perez is very likely to see the April 1 opener against the Florida Marlins in Miami.

Chris Young started the game against the Braves and fired two perfect innings while already demonstrating velocity superior to September with the San Diego Padres, when he was trying to re-establish himself following shoulder surgery. Young and Chris Capuano are expected to claim the final two spots in the rotation, which ultimately will leave Perez vying for a bullpen spot if he isn't released earlier.

In fact, manager Terry Collins wanted to send Perez directly to the bullpen upon arriving at camp. But like with Carlos Beltran and center field, the skipper deferred to the veteran's wishes and let him audition to be a starting pitcher.

Collins pledged to continue the audition, using Perez for one inning again soon, then starting him in one of the Mets' split-squad games on March 8.

"We have some legitimate candidates," Collins said. "And we told him he would get a chance. I don't necessarily know if one outing is a chance. … I'm sure there was no question he was nervous. This guy is a veteran pitcher who is trying to make a ballclub, and I'm sure his stomach was churning a little bit today."

Collins already has identified Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz and Tim Byrdak as on solid footing for relief roles. That leaves two slots. Pat Misch would be a solid choice as long man, and at least Pedro Beato and Jason Isringhausen would figure to be better choices than Perez for the other slot.

Placing Perez in the bullpen as a lefty specialist is a foolish proposition -- even if he did have some success against left-handed batters in Mexico. If he's called upon to face Ryan Howard or Chase Utley in the seventh inning with runners on base when the Mets head to Citizens Bank Park in April, Perez would be prone to issuing a walk and exacerbating the predicament.

For whatever it's worth, though, Perez did retire the two left-handed batters he faced Sunday -- striking out Jordan Schafer on a slow slider and Freddie Freeman on a fielder's choice ground out.

The southpaw said he expects more arm strength as spring training progresses. But will he even get a chance to search for it?

"The past week we worked too hard," Perez said. "I think everybody is kind of tired a little bit. … I know my velocity is not there, and that's why I'm working so hard. That's why I went to winter ball, trying to feel real good with all of my pitches."