Rays' Whitley completes comeback Sunday

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tampa Bay right-hander Chase Whitley could maybe follow the mold of Texas left-hander Martin Perez.

Perez (10-11) is proof that you can make it all the way back from Tommy John surgery, which is what Whitley (0-0) is trying to do. The two face off in the regular-season finale Sunday at Globe Life Park.

Whitley makes his first big-league start since May 14, 2015, when he was a member of the New York Yankees. He left that start because of an elbow injury which led to surgery. He was limited to nine minor league starts this year as he rehabbed from the injury, but earned the right to start Sunday by allowing two runs in 10 1/3 innings with the Rays.

“He probably had a pretty good idea that it was going to happen,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “We felt it was important to get Chase somewhere in there. He's worked so hard for us all year. We're really excited about the way he's come back, how he's thrown the ball this year and then the way his off-speed pitches have played up. We view him as being a really big asset for our team next year.”

While Whitley is excited about 2017 too, he's also happy to have a chance to start again at this level.

“I'm very thankful that the Lord blessed me to able to come back,” Whitley said. “Anytime you're getting to start in the major leagues is truly a blessing. That's something I don't think I'll take for granted.”

Perez (10-11, 4.37 ERA) had his Tommy John rehab year in 2015, and is making his final start before the postseason. He'll do so having established career highs in starts at 32. He can set a career high with wins if he beats the Rays Sunday, and if he pitches at least 4 1/3 innings, he'll surpass the 200-inning mark in a season for the first time in his career.

“I want to finish strong and try to throw up a couple of more zeros, that's all,” Perez said. “I feel good. I'm just trying to build on my 200 innings. That means I feel okay and I'm ready to compete for more years in the big leagues at this level. I'm trying to be ready for the playoffs too.”

Perez will likely have at least a week between starts as the Rangers won't turn to him until Game 3 or Game 4 of the American League Division Series. The club has also sewn up home field throughout the postseason, which would allow Perez to treat Sunday as a chance to work on things if he wanted to make sure he's sharp for the ALDS.

He isn't approaching it that way though.

“I think I'm just staying focused, not trying to change anything,” Perez said. “It's the same baseball, same game. It's going to be more people and more pressure, but it's the same baseball. I just want to stay focused and try to throw a strike every time.”