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Cionel Pérez's resurgence balances Orioles' bullpen

Cuban left-hander Cionel Pérez has regained his dominance in this second half of the season, and has been key for the Baltimore Orioles By Yirsandy Rodríguez Ninth inning, and the Baltimore Orioles are three outs away from victory against the Houston Astros. Yes, for the second night in a row, a familiar story was repeated: the Cubans Cionel Pérez and Yennier Cano were in charge of getting the final outs. On Monday night, Cionel relieved Mike Baumann to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning after the Orioles took an 8-7 lead. His first confrontation was against his compatriot Yordan Álvarez, who safely reached second base due to a throwing error by third baseman Ramón Urías. Although he pitched to dominate, the error prevented Cionel from completing his first mission of the ninth inning against a left-handed batter. With a runner in scoring position with no outs, Cionel dominated another of his compatriots, first baseman José Abreu, who missed by hitting a line drive at 101.1 mph that was caught by rightfielder Austin Hays. On the play, pinch-runner Jake Meyers moved to third, and then Cionel retired Kyle Tucker with a grounder to second on a 3-1 count. Three batters faced, two outs, although it really should have been three, but Urías' error opened the possibility of a tie for the Astros. Cionel Pérez's work, as has happened in just over a month, was effective again. With Chas McCormick, a right-handed hitter coming to the plate, his compatriot Yennier Cano was called to the hill to get the final out. Cano struck out McCormick with a pair of sinkers and a zigzagging changeup that sank into the outside corner, and the Orioles took an 8-7 victory, relying on the combination of their two Cuban pitchers as fundamental pieces in the bullpen. By then, Cionel's two outs became more relevant, although the main credit of the night was how he managed to induce Yordan Álvarez and Kyle Tucker, his left-handed opponents, to hit a pair of ground balls. Precisely those left-handed vs. left-handed duels have been one of the main situations that Cionel has not been able to control at the same level as last year. Look at the differences before he took the mound last night to look for the 27th out: Impact statistics against left-handed hitters 2022: 0.44 ERA, 10.45 SO/9, 4.00 SO/BB, .536 OPS against 84 opponents 2023: 3.13 ERA, 9.00 SO/9, 1.92 SO/BB, .590 OPS against 100 opponents I don't think the ERA is the best way to evaluate Cionel's effectiveness, but it has definitely been one of the parameters with the greatest regression. His ERA has increased by 2.69 in innings against left-handed hitters, with that slight decrease seen in his strikeout rate per nine innings. However, that's not the main problem I see there. Exactly: The most concerning point is how his strikeout-to-walk rate has fallen from 4.00 to 1.92. That sign tells us that Cionel is striking out less, at the same rate at which he has increased his walk rate. So I suspect this may be one reason: his four-seam fastball is being hit more by hitters. In 2022, Cionel posted a brilliant 28.4 Whiff% rate, and his opponents averaged just .314 against him. This year, his swing-miss rate has fallen 13.4%, and his slugging percentage has climbed to .415 against his four-seam fastball. The good news in this regard is that, since June, when Cionel began to eliminate the use of his four-seam fastball for the sinker, he exhibit just a .255 OBA and has not allowed extra bases against 60 opponents. Unlike the previous night, Cano was the one who relieved first, but he made a mess, allowing a single, then threw a wild pitch and then walked Alex Bregman on six pitches—five of them pure sinkers bordering the lower areas of the plate— . With Yordan Álvarez being announced to come to the plate at Minute Maid Park, manager Brandon Hyde did not delay in sending Cionel Pérez in relief. And I think the main reason for making that move was not just the presence of a left-handed hitter. The big argument here is that Cionel has regained his dominance during this second half of the season. In fact, before facing Yordan Álvarez, he had not allowed earned runs in his last 22 reliefs since July 29. His fastball velocity continues to improve, and Cionel has shown it through a 2.2% increase compared to his strikeout rate over the first half of the season. What happened then? Cionel threw three very similar sinkers, located in the low strike zone, and Yordan did not swing at any pitch: First pitch : Strike called, at 97.2 mph. Second pitch : Strike called, at 98.6 mph. Third pitch : Strike called, at 98.5 mph. Strikeout! And the Orioles won again against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, this time 9-5! Although a three-run home run by Yordan Álvarez would not have tied the game, Cionel resolved the situation and earned his second save of the season. Closing out games usually hasn't been his job since last year, when he had 25 holds in 66 reliefs and posted a 1.40 ERA. However, after the injury of the starting closer, Dominican right-hander Félix Bautista, on August 25, Cionel has taken advantage of the opportunity to once again take leading roles in the bullpen. And, congratulations, his resurgence is great news for the Orioles heading into the postseason. (Photo: Cionel Pérez/GettyImages)

In this second half of the season, Cuban LHP Cionel Pérez has regained his dominance and has been vital to the Baltimore Orioles' success

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