If there was one member of the Indians bullpen who should have evoked the least concern heading into the season, that man was Rafael Perez.

If there was one member of the Indians bullpen who should have evoked the least concern heading into the season, that man was Rafael Perez.

A 3.54 ERA in 73 appearances last year, which followed a sparkling 1.78 ERA in 44 outings in 2007, was good reason for the Tribe to feel warm and fuzzy with a game in the lefty’s hands.

Then less than 30 games into the 2009 season, Perez was shuttled to Triple-A Columbus, taking with him a dark, cold 15.19 ERA.

What in name of Paul Assenmacher is going on here?

The steady Perez has followed — in some ways led — the bullpen’s march to the abyss. He allowed 19 hits and 18 runs in 10 2/3 innings before being shipped to the minors on Wednesday.

The Indians were befuddled by the struggles of Perez, who turns 27 on Friday.

“So many crazy things happen in this game,” Manager Eric Wedge said. “He was throwing the ball real well when he went to the (World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic). He came back and he was throwing the ball well. Then we had about two or three weeks before (the regular season started). He just came out of the gates slow. He’s been struggling to find it ever since.”

To Wedge’s point, Perez sported a 2.70 ERA over 10 spring innings. He struck out 10 and walked only one.

In his 10 2/3 innings this regular season, he whiffed five and walked nine. This from a guy who was third in the American League in relief strikeouts (86) in 2008, averaging 10.1 per nine innings. Over the last two seasons, Perez combined for 148 Ks against only 38 walks.

Perez’s slider seems to be the main reason for his decline. Flat and lifeless instead of diving and nasty, his go-to pitch has become an easy target for opposing hitters, who are batting .422 against him.

“He just didn’t have the same life on the plate and obviously (the same) command,” Wedge said. “That’s why he needs to go work a little bit and not worry about results. Just let the ball go. He’s as good as anybody when he’s right.”

The Indians let Perez throw on the side for five days, from April 20-24, to work out the kinks. He responded by throwing three scoreless innings over his final three outings that month.

But May came and the struggles returned. Over three appearances, he allowed five runs on seven hits in 2/3 of an inning.

“I feel like he’s a little bit better now than he was earlier,” Wedge said. “But what he needs to do is go down and pitch. He’s in there for three or four hitters (with us). He needs to go down and throw a couple of innings, maybe throw three innings. Throw 30 or 40 pitches so he can work on it. And I think he’s going to be back up here pretty quickly. I feel that way. He just needs to go down there and get some consistent work and repetition.”

Interested observer

Wonder what Luis Isaac thinks about the Tribe’s bullpen situation.

Wedge let Isaac go after last season — his 44th with the organization as a player, coach, manager or scout. He spent the last 15 years as the Indians bullpen coach. Isaac, who underwent shoulder surgery this winter, is currently in his native Puerto Rico and not with any organization.

Sad Mother's Day

Joba Chamberlain’s estranged mother, 44-year-old Jacqueline Standley, was arrested last weekend on felony charges of selling methamphetamine to an undercover cop.

“She’s still my mom and I still love her,” Chamberlain, 23, told the New York Daily News. “That’s the long and short of it. You handle it. You’ve only got one mom, man. You have to be thankful for her, love her and pray for her.” Nice words, but it also should be mentioned that Joba is in no position to judge.

Chamberlain pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges last month in the same Lincoln, Neb. courtroom his mom was arraigned.

Smart investment

So far the Phillies are getting their money’s worth out of 36-year-old Raul Ibanez, who is making about $7.2 million in the first year of a three-year free-agent deal he signed over the winter.

The lefty-swinger entered the weekend second in the National League in slugging percentage (.676). His .343 batting average was sixth (behind suspended Manny Ramirez’s .348) and his eight home runs were tied for fourth in the NL. He’s been one of the most consistent players in baseball over the last decade. In the eight years prior to coming to Philly, he averaged 21 home runs and 92 RBIs to go with a .291 batting average for the Royals and Mariners.

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