Freshman pitcher finds his stride in the bullpen

Freshman pitcher Andrew Perez lasted only two starts as a starting pitcher for USF in 2016, but stepped up as a reliever in the eighth-inning role after his demotion. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/JACOB HOAG

It was a daunting experience for Andrew Perez to be removed from his starting pitcher role, especially only two starts into his collegiate career. 

But after surrendering 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings over those two starts, he vowed to show     USF coach Mark Kingston and pitching coach Billy Mohl that he was far from done. 

“It was kind of hard being the new kid on the block because I was the young 18-year-old guy, and there were guys older than me who were watching and critiquing how I play,” Perez said. 

“But the transition was not as rough as I expected it to be because after I improved my throwing velocity, my confidence started going up and I was less nervous pitching for the bullpen.”

Following a few weeks of work in the bullpen, Perez impressed Mohl with his improved velocity and optimism to the point that he thought Perez was ready to return to the mound, this time as a relief pitcher.

After throwing in the 86-90 mph range in high school, Perez’s fastball now averages 92 mph, touching as high as 94 at times. 

“The biggest strength he has is that he is left-handed,” Mohl said. “His second strength is that he throws hard. So the biggest tip I give him is to stay calm, stay relaxed and competitive, so that he can focus on the strike zone without feeling scared or tentative.” 

Perez’s first stint in the bullpen for the Bulls was one to remember. 

In relief, he made 17 appearances over the remainder of the season, recorded a .228 batting average against and struck out 32 batters in 26 innings. After giving up two earned runs in his first 18 innings as a reliever, Perez became even more dominant down the stretch, with an ERA of 1.00 over his final 11 2/3 innings. 

Perez’s adjustment to the college game wasn’t the first time the Orlando native had to deal with setbacks.

Perez played from age 6 until his freshman year at Timber Creek High School, when it came time to try out for the Wolves’ baseball team. 

His heart swelled with excitement in his first tryout for both pitcher and outfielder, but his performance wasn’t enough to make the team. 

“When I found out I got cut, it was either pursue this or stop because it was only my first year in high school, so I knew that I’d fine something to do either way,” Perez said. “And so I took to my musical side of things and played drumline for my school’s band.”

Missing the cut was a tough pill to swallow for Perez. Following the tryout, Perez spent much of his time at Timber Creek pondering what he could have done to play on the field. 

Though he would miss the cut yet again during his sophomore year, he refused to let defeat get the better of him and kept on chasing his dream. 

“When I look back, it was a real eye-opener for me, because if you really work hard for something, you will pretty much get what you want,” Perez said. “And I remember my dad telling me then to use the thought of not making the team as motivation, and I have been doing that ever since. Without learning that lesson, I would not be where I am now.” 

Perez’s dark cloud of doubt cleared up in his junior year when he made the Wolves’ baseball team as a pitcher. 

He dominated the pitcher’s mound with a 15-6 record with an ERA of 2.00 and 192 strikeouts. In his senior season, Perez was crowned Team Pitcher of the Year, going 9-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, the most strikeouts in the area. 

Even with all the obstacles Perez had to overcome as a young player, teammate and fellow college freshman, Chris Chatfield said he believed that Perez shows no signs of slowing down. 

“I think he fits in pretty well, for he is one of the hardest workers I have ever met so far,” Chatfield said. “What motivates him to do well in my opinion, is the fact that he just wants to make his family proud, and when he told me he didn’t make the team in his freshman year in high school, is another motivating factor I think that keeps him going.”

Now a freshman majoring in mass communications and pitching as a relief for the Bulls, Perez says he is blessed with what he has accomplished in his life and he looks ahead for the future. 

“To me, it is all about growth at this point,” Perez said. “So for every game I play, I plan to take it one day at a time and enjoy the moment.”

Despite setbacks throughout Perez’s career, Kingston said the way his player has fought back from those difficulties has proven he’ll stop at nothing to get to the top.

“I think Andrew has the ability to be a part of a championship team,” Kingston said. “How big of a role he plays in that will be determined by his development and how hard he works. And there is no question that we want to be a championship-winning team here at USF, and I think he can be an important part for that.”