The Washington Nationals signed Oliver Perez in March of 2011, on the recommendation of Spin Williams, who knew the left-hander from the time the two spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Williams was the Bucs' pitching coach then and Perez was a Pirates' starter.
Perez moved on the New York Mets in 2006, and Williams left the Pirates and joined the Nationals as an advisor and later a minor league pitching coordinator.
Perez started at Double-A in the Nats' system in 2011, putting up a 3.09 ERA, a 4.83 FIP, 27 walks (3.21 BB/9) and 58 Ks (6.90 K/9) in 75 ⅔ innings pitched.
It was at that point that Williams suggested a move to the bullpen might make sense for Perez, if the lefty wanted to get back to the majors.
"Spin Williams talked to me a lot and I just say thanks to him," Perez explained, "because I know him from the Pirates and he told me, 'You've got a really good arm. You pitch really good against lefties, and the soonest you can get to the big leagues is you go to the bullpen and figure out how to get the lefties out,' and that's why I went to Winter ball and tried to start working out as a reliever and I figured it out quickly, I signed with Seattle and I came to the big leagues."
In four seasons since then, the now-34-year-old left-hander has put up a 3.31 ERA, a 3.21 FIP, 75 walks (3.70 BB/9) and 225 Ks (11.11 K/9) in 182 ⅓ innings, working exclusively in relief for the Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros.
Perez told reporters recently, at Nationals WinterFest, that he saw his season in the Nats' organization as a turning point in his career.
"I think that chance was kind of like my second chance," he said. "Because I was having trouble being consistent and [staying] healthy and when I got to Double-A, I had time to set it up and think about what can be next for me and that was a really good decision to move to the bullpen and try to come back to the big leagues and I had success like right away."
In 70 games and 183 plate appearances with the D-Backs and Astros last season, Perez held left-handed hitters to a combined .185/.235/.283 line, with right-handers putting up a .310/.417/.465 line against the veteran reliever.
He said he's adjusted to and now enjoys working out of the bullpen.
"I kind of like it because I get a chance to pitch every day and that's the game I love. It's a really good experience being in a tough situation almost every day, because I can decide a game. Sometimes it can be hard, but it's fun at the same moment. You've got more love, more passion for the job you do."
The role of the late-inning lefty he was signed to fill in D.C. is something he's embraced as well.
"I think the way I pitch right now is trying to change delivery, like arm slot, because I'm going to face a guy only one time," Perez explained.
"When you're a starter, you might face him three times and in that time they can figure out where's your arm slot and what pitch you have better.
"In the bullpen, they have to figure it out in probably one pitch. So that's why a reliever might have an advantage in the at bat so that's why you have to be positive and throw strikes and try to get out of the situation in probably less than three pitches."
Perez signed a 2-year/$7M deal with Washington earlier this month. He said he was happy to sign early this winter so he can start preparing for the season.
"He's a veteran presence, a guy that's had two really, really good seasons," Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings.
"[He's a] person that knows several of the players, that will fit into the clubhouse and give you a really good left-on-left guy, and if he falls back to where he was two years ago, he was good against both sides of the plate. He gives a good veteran arm to go with some of our young electric arms and we feel that he'll be a good fit for us."
"I've been here before and I know a couple guys and I know the organization" Perez said.
"As soon as they told me, 'The Nationals are very interested in signing you,' I was really happy, because I know they are a really good team and really good chance to be in the playoffs this year."