ARLINGTON, Texas — There’s a decent chance Martin Perez has made his final start for the Rangers this season. And if that’s the case, the 21-year-old left-hander has certainly left a positive impression.
Perez was undermined Friday by sloppy plays behind him and another dismal performance from Rangers hitters in a 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins. It seems the rest of the lineup has joined Mike Napoli and Michael Young in becoming clueless when runners are in scoring position. The Rangers were 1-of-10 in those situations Friday.
The good news is that Perez didn’t crater along with his teammates. He survived a third inning that required him to make 13 extra pitches after Napoli made like a beer-leaguer and misplayed a routine fly ball at first base with two outs. The Twins tacked on two unearned runs to take a 3-0 lead. At that point, it seemed unlikely Perez would last much longer. But he settled down and only allowed one more run over the next three innings. It was the first “quality start” of his career because he only gave up two earned runs during his six innings.
“He showed some heart tonight,” Washington said. “The pitches piled up after we didn’t catch that pop-up, and I didn’t think he’d get through the fifth, and he got six. He’s progressing, he’s starting to feel comfortable, he’s starting to make better pitches.”
Perez, who struggled earlier this season in Triple-A Round Rock, has capitalized on his opportunity with the big-league club. He was forced to throw a lot more pitches in his second start (107), but he said he felt fine afterward. Yu Darvish recently told Perez about a time in Japan that he threw 163 pitches in eight innings.
“He said he felt fine,” Perez told me. “And that’s something I’ve kept thinking about.”
Perez is fully aware that other teams are watching him closely right now. The Milwaukee Brewers had at least one scout at Friday’s game and the Philadelphia Phillies have also monitored his progress. It’s pretty much a given the Brewers and Phillies would be asking for Perez in return for starting pitchers Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. But none of that seems to faze Perez.
“It’s good for me to know that people are watching for me,” Perez said through an interpreter. “Those things happen. I’d like to be in Texas and play here, but you never know. When you do your job, everyone is going to be looking for you, either way.”
Perez was upset with himself for leaving a couple balls up in the strike zone, but the Twins didn’t exactly tee off on him. Even the single that directly followed Napoli’s error in the third inning wasn’t sharply hit by Justin Morneau, who has been dreadful this season against left-handed pitching. Perez has added a two-seam fastball this season to go along with his four-seamer. He kept his velocity up throughout the game, with his fastball topping out at 94-mph. He also used a slider that fooled Twins hitters early in the game.
With Derek Holland returning to the mound Saturday and Colby Lewis likely returning after the All-Star break, Perez will soon return to Round Rock. He should do so with a lot of confidence after showing that he can be effective against major-league hitters.
“I think I had a good outing,” Perez said. “I feel good about my outing. The hits they got were not hard hits. They got my pitch count up with a lot of foul balls, but I never lost control. I always had control of my game on the mound.”
Perez was clearly excited when he picked off Darin Mastroianni to end the sixth inning. He’s not in any hurry to return to the minors, but Washington made it clear that’s where he’ll be.
“When we get our real horses back, he’s gonna have to go back,” Washington told me.
But depending on what happens before the July 31 trade deadline, there’s a chance he won’t stay in Round Rock for long. Either way, it’s pretty obvious he’ll be a permanent fixture at the big-league level soon.
Now, if someone could just end this losing streak.