It has been more than 14 months since Martin Perez has pitched in the big leagues and he could be facing the right opponent.
The Texas Rangers left-hander makes his much-anticipated return Friday night on the road as he looks to improve to 4-0 against the Houston Astros, who seek to avoid a seventh straight defeat.
Perez will be activated off the 60-day disabled list for his first appearance since May 10, 2014, against Boston. He reported elbow soreness after allowing six runs and nine hits over 3 2-3 innings in an 8-3 loss and had Tommy John surgery less than two weeks later.
His readiness is in question based on his rehab work in the minors. Perez made two starts at Double-A Frisco, posting a 3.18 ERA with no record, before four more at Triple-A Round Rock, where he went 0-1 with a 4.95 ERA. Opponents hit .333 against him at Triple-A, and he allowed five runs and 12 hits in six innings in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to New Orleans.
Perez is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three career starts against the Astros. Chris Carter is 6 for 13 with two homers against him and Jose Altuve is 4 for 10 with two doubles.
”There is some anticipation there,” said manager Jeff Banister about Perez’s return.
Houston (49-42) is searching for answers after leading the AL West every day from April 19 until Sunday’s 4-3 defeat at Tampa Bay capped a six-game slide and dropped the Astros into second place behind the Los Angeles Angels.
The club is seeking to avoid matching its season-worst seven-game slide June 4-10. Still, there is a positive vibe surrounding the Astros after six straight losing seasons thanks to young players like Carlos Correa and George Springer, who is currently out with a fractured wrist.
”I’m just glad the fans show up to support the team,” Correa said. ”I think they come here because we’ve got a winning team.”
Those fans are hoping to see the Astros’ first win at home over the Rangers, who swept three games at Houston from May 4-6 to take a 4-2 lead in the season series.
Astros right-hander Collin McHugh (9-5, 4.50 ERA) gave up one run in six innings in a 5-1 road win over the Rangers on April 10 to improve to 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against them. Elvis Andrus is 3 for 6 against him and Prince Fielder is 2 for 3.
McHugh has a 5.74 ERA at home compared to 3.77 on the road. He gave up three runs in seven innings in his second straight loss last Friday, 3-1 at Tampa Bay.
The Astros lead the majors with 124 homers and are eighth with 4.3 runs per game, but have scored seven runs in this slide.
Carter is hitless in 19 at-bats and owns baseball’s third-worst average at .185. Luis Valbuena has a team-high 19 homers and the majors’ fifth-worst average at .199.
Texas (42-46), which is a major league-best 26-20 on the road, continued to struggle at its own park, ending the first half with a 2-1 defeat to San Diego to complete a 1-7 homestand.
While Prince Fielder leads the Rangers with 54 RBIs and is second in the AL with a .339 average, the lineup features two players in the bottom 10 in the majors in slugging percentage in Andrus and Leonys Martin – both at .323.
”We haven’t played our best baseball yet,” Andrus said. ”We did for like a month. Second half is always exciting, especially when you’re fighting for a spot.”