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Cool Perez a wild card for Rays

Cool Perez a wild card for Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Fernando Perez spent the first months of the 2008 season at Triple-A Durham, but he managed to make enough of an impression after being called up on Aug. 31 to be added to the Rays' postseason roster.

All the speedy Perez did in 23 games was score 18 runs, hit three home runs -- after hitting just five at Durham -- steal five bases in five attempts and play stellar defense.

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Rays manager Joe Maddon said Perez earned his way onto the roster.

"When he came up here, everybody told me how much he had improved since last year," Maddon said. "[They] talked about his whole game, defensively, how it had gotten better. Baserunning, how it had gotten better. And I still didn't know what to expect. The thing that has impressed me more than anything is how calm he is in the moment. He's not intimidated by anything. And that's the part beyond all of his physical skills that's made him most attractive. So right now if you were to start him tomorrow, I'd be comfortable doing that."

Perez, 25, called being on the roster "pretty cool."

"Honestly, I didn't play as good as I could have, but I played well enough," Perez said. "Just a lot of nerves you've got to fight, getting adjusted to new ballparks, seeing pitchers you've never seen before. So I was pleased how I did things. But I could have done a little better."

Maddon wasn't totally surprised by Perez's power, noting Perez's wiry strength.

"During Spring Training, he hit a couple of balls foul that would have been out of Al Lang [Field]," Maddon said. "You watch his bat speed, he's got incredible bat speed. He's really quick with his hands. It doesn't surprise me that he has some power, the fact that he's already displayed it here, that's the part that surprises me. You watch this guy's swing he's got some bat speed."

Given Perez's skill set, he is a wild card for the Rays to have on their roster, and a wild card who could make an impact on the series whether it's pinch-running, hitting or in the field. Clearly, he has another gear.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle will start for the White Sox in Game 2, which means Maddon will look to start a right-handed-hitting lineup. Perez is a switch-hitter, so he is an option to start in right field if Rocco Baldelli is used as the DH.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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