By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Baseball Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Martín Pérez was nearly a year from making his big league debut with the Texas Rangers and pitching in 2011 at Triple-A Round Rock, where one of the catchers was a future MLB manager.
“He was real young … Very well-thought of by the Rangers and all of baseball. A big prospect, super talented,“ said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, who then was in his last season as a player. “I think what we saw in Round Rock was if this young kid can stay healthy, he’s going to have a pretty good career.”
Now in his 11th big league season, and back in Texas after three seasons away, Pérez is having the best stretch of his career. The 31-year-old left-hander went into Thursday as the MLB leader with his 1.56 ERA. His nine consecutive quality starts have matched the longest in Rangers history, with the only longer active streak in the majors 10 in a row by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove.
Pérez was the American League pitcher of the month in May, when on the final day he threw seven scoreless innings against Tampa Bay. Perez retired the last 16 Rays batters he faced after taking a 97 mph liner off his right leg.
In his only June start so far, Pérez gave up two runs over six innings in a no-decision against Seattle. He allowed his first homer of the season but worked out of an early bases-loaded jam without a run scoring and left with Sunday’s game tied at 2.
“The old Martin maybe would have gotten frustrated, and when it was bases loaded and one out, wouldn’t have been able to make pitches,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said, calling it one of the lefty’s most impressive performances in a season full of them.
Before that, Pérez had gone at least six innings in eight consecutive starts while allowing no more than one earned run. He threw a complete-game shutout at Houston and also had seven scoreless innings at Philadelphia.
“I think maybe mentally I’m stronger and have more experience,” Pérez said.
Signed by the Rangers as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2007, Pérez was 21 for his big league debut in June 2012. He was 43-49 with a 4.63 ERA in Texas, and had Tommy John surgery in 2014, before going to Minnesota in free agency for the 2019 season. He spent the past two seasons in Boston, where he was dropped from the Red Sox rotation in early August and finished last year with 14 relief appearances.
“From last year to this year, I’m not giving too much credit to the hitters. I just go out there and throw my pitches where I want it,” he said. “And I think the focus that I have on my bullpens right now, I think has changed everything. Because what I’m doing in the bullpen, I’m just trying to bring into the game. … I’m just trying to pitch like I’m in the game, same attitude, same adrenaline.”
The Rangers signed free agent Jon Gray to $56 million, four-year contract in December before the MLB lockout to be their No. 1 starter. Pérez got a $4 million deal at the start of spring training, with the expectation that he could be a dependable starter in a rotation filled with young pitchers.
Pérez lost his first two starts while allowing seven runs over eight innings, but the team’s oldest starting pitcher has a 0.88 ERA (six earned runs in 61 1/3 innings) in his nine starts since. His 1.56 ERA overall is the lowest in Washington Senators/Rangers franchise history for a pitcher in his first 11 starts of a season.
“He feels like he’s executing pitches at a more consistent rate so far this year,” Cash said. “He’s probably a little different pitcher than he was when he was 20 years old throwing 97, 98 miles an hour. There’s more pitchability there.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais was in player development for the Rangers when they were scouting the teenaged Pérez and signed him.
“So I’ve seen him from Day 1, good competitor, and he’s changed over time,” Servais said. “But his bread and butter pitch is his sinker and his changeup … the command has probably been as good as it’s ever been for him right now, being able to move the ball to both sides of the plate.”
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