Perez hopes to bounce back from injury in Durham

Staff WriterApril 8, 2010 

— Fernando Perez will start the season with the Durham Bulls, a year after a wrist injury in spring training kept him from starting the season in the major leagues.

But Perez, who would have played for the Tampa Bay Rays, isn't looking for sympathy. He said the experience gave him a different perspective on baseball.

"While I did miss a year on the field, I feel like I did gain some things and it was a positive experience," Perez said. "I got to watch a lot of games being fairly unattached emotionally because I couldn't do anything. I was watching games calmly, and it was like I was a scout. I had a great seat, and I could see a lot. Hopefully, it will help me."

Perez, who won't be able to switch hit early because of the injury, is looking forward to the Bulls' new season, which starts today in Norfolk, Va., against the Tides. The Bulls don't play their first game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park until next Thursday.

The Bulls have quite a few players back. That figures to bode well for a team that has been to the Governors' Cup finals the past three years and won the Triple-A national championship last fall.

"We're going to be good - at least for opening day, because you know how rosters change," manager Charlie Montoyo said, alluding to last season, when there were numerous roster changes.

Speedy Perez will be back in the outfield, as will Justin Ruggiano, who has played most of his games with the Bulls the past three seasons.

The Rays will run out of options on Ruggiano after this season.

"I know how it feels," Montoyo said of Ruggiano, who had great hitting numbers in the spring. "He deserved to be in the big leagues, but we didn't have any room. But this is a big year for him. He's got to play hard."

Outfielder Desmond Jennings, who hurt his wrist in spring training, won't likely be able to play until May, Montoyo said.

Also back are Triangle residents Elliot Johnson and Chris Richard, two of eight infielders on the roster.

Johnson, who has played most of the past three seasons with the Bulls, had been placed on waivers because the Rays had ran out of options on the 26-year-old infielder. He'll be used at shortstop early.

"I didn't want him to clear waivers because he's one of my boys," Montoyo said.

If another major league team had picked up Johnson, he would have been required to start the season in the majors.

It wasn't an easy time for Johnson, who may help out in the outfield, too.

"Every day, you're not sure what's going to happen," Johnson said. "It was pretty stressful. I'm happy it's over with. I'm glad to be back playing with Durham."

One intriguing addition to this year's team is former major leaguer Hank Blalock, 29, the two-time All-Star, who nearly retired before agreeing to be sent down to the Bulls. As recently as the last week in March, he had told reporters he had no intentions of going to the minor leagues.

The team again begins the season with the Rays' top pitching prospect, though this season there will be far less hype around right-hander Jeremy Hellickson then there was last season over lefty David Price, who was considered one of the top two pitching prospects in all of baseball last season.

Hellickson, who helped the Bulls late last season, will lead the starting rotation.

javier.serna@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4953

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