With the Orioles playoff push intensifying as they look to win the AL East and clinch the top record in the AL, every win is important in those goals. With All-Star closer Félix Bautista sidelined for the foreseeable future, the bullpen as a whole has stepped up to help fill the void left by Bautista.
One reliever who's done that in particular is Cionel Pérez. After lots of struggles to begin the season that left people skeptical about his long-term future with the team, Pérez has turned it around in a big way, and it's happening at just the right time.
Cionel Pérez is becoming a very valuable reliever again in the Orioles bullpen
Pérez, who will be in his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, is on a $732,300 contract after posting a 1.40 ERA, 1.162 WHIP, and 8.6 strikeouts per nine in 2022 in 57 2/3 innings and 66 appearances. In the first half of this season, Pérez had a 4.45 ERA and 1.78 WHIP with opponents slashing .309/.394/.431 against him.
The second half has been completely different for Pérez, who has totally turned his season around. He's posted a 1.56 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while averaging 9.9 strikeouts per nine and zero home runs in 17 1/3 innings.
In Pérez's past 17 outings, he's thrown 14 innings. In that time, he's allowed just seven hits and two walks, striking out 15 hitters while allowing zero earned runs. The last time Pérez allowed an earned run was on July 26 against the Philadelphia Phillies, in which he failed to record an out. That includes an appearance in the series finale against the Angels on Wednesday night in which he threw a clean inning.
Over four games and 3 1/3 innings so far in September, Pérez has allowed just one hit out of the 10 batters he's faced, with opponents slashing .100/.100/.100 to start the month. In August, he allowed just six hits and two walks in 12 appearances, with one unearned run in that time.
On the season, Pérez still has a 1.490 WHIP while averaging a rather high 4.3 walks per nine. On the other hand, he's dropped his ERA to 3.40 and his FIP to 3.72, averaging 7.7 strikeouts per nine with one save in 55 games and 47 2/3 innings.
With the Orioles looking to lock down a division title and homefield in the playoffs, the return of Pérez to his 2022 form is coming at just the right time for the team. If he can continue this to end the season, he'll be a highly valuable reliever come the postseason, giving Brandon Hyde another dependable lefty alongside Danny Coulombe.