Martin Perez could have felt jilted, but he didn’t.
He understood why the Texas Rangers went with Justin Grimm over him when they needed a starter in mid-June last season. Forget that Perez has been the Rangers’ top pitching prospect since 2009 and Grimm was a work in progress as a fifth-round pick in 2010.
At the time, Perez was struggling with his fastball command at Triple A Round Rock, and Grimm had a 1.87 ERA at Double A Frisco.
“They called that guy because he was throwing better than me,” Perez said. “I never said, ‘Oh, why they call him because I’m the prospect?’ I’m not a selfish guy.”
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Instead, Perez focused on making sure he wouldn’t be overlooked the next time an opportunity presented itself. He threw seven scoreless innings and then a complete game three-hitter his next two starts and made his big league debut on June 27.
Perez bounced between the majors and Triple A the rest of the season but finished as the Rangers’ fifth starter. He didn’t earn incumbent status, though, as he went 0-3 with a 12.46 ERA his final three starts.
“I overthrew last year and missed a lot of the zone,” Perez said. “Now I know I don’t have to throw hard. I just need to throw strikes. Throw more strikes.”
If he does that, Perez could emerge from a stiff competition that includes Grimm, left-handed reliever Robbie Ross and veterans Randy Wells and Kyle McClellan.
“For him to earn that spot, he’s going to have to show some consistency,” team president and CEO Nolan Ryan said. “That’s what you hope for whoever wins that spot. I have a feeling that’s what’s going to be the separator.”
Manager Ron Washington spoke highly about how the 21-year-old Perez had been handling himself the first two weeks of spring training. He praised Perez for keeping his fastball down in the zone and showing a good changeup and breaking ball.
But Washington said that Monday morning and issued this warning: “Now, can he do that when a hitter steps up there?”
Perez answered that question a few hours later against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Perez retired all six batters he faced with two strikeouts over a 27-pitch outing.
It was a strong opening statement by the favorite to win the fifth spot in the Rangers’ rotation.
The organization would like to see Perez seize the job and fulfill his potential, of course. He’s going into his sixth professional season with the Rangers, who signed the Venezuelan as a non-drafted free agent in 2007.
“He’s as good as advertised,” said Julio Borbon, who played with Perez the past two seasons at Round Rock. “When he’s got his stuff going and it’s on, it’s really fun to watch.”
The issue with Perez his entire career has been consistency. He can be erratic at the beginning of games before settling into a zone. Perez had 3-1 counts to the first two batters he faced Monday, for instance, but retired them both.
Making that quick adjustment is necessary for Perez to solidify himself as the No. 5 starter. By the end of spring, it’ll be known if he has done it consistently over about five starts.
“Somebody tell me if I feel pressure? I say, ‘No,’ ” Perez said. “It’s an opportunity and you don’t need to think too much. Just go to the mound and do your job. I trust my team and the team trusts me.
“If they give me an opportunity, I just want to do my best and do my job. We want to win the World Series, and that’s all I think about is win, win, win. You’re not baby up here. Up here, it’s all about winning.”