Baseball players operate on a funny clock during the sixth-month marathon of a season.
For many of them, August is too early to glance at the standings and worry about a playoff race. Depending on how the schedule lines up, early September might be too early.
That means that April might as well not exist in many cases. That applies to hitters who are slumping and pitchers who are underperforming. The players who flourish early temper their fast starts by reminding themselves that it’s a long season.
So, what could have been an elated Texas Rangers clubhouse Wednesday afternoon was relatively sedated.
Left-hander Martin Perez barely cracked a smile. Manager Ron Washington didn’t put much stock into what happened the past three days at O.co Coliseum. Right fielder Alex Rios said that, well, it’s April.
What happened Wednesday, though, is that Perez tossed his second consecutive three-hit shutout, and Rios had an RBI triple to jump-start the offense en route to a 3-0 victory that gave the Rangers a three-game sweep of division rival Oakland and moved them into first place in the American League West.
“It’s just three games,” Washington said. “There’s not big significance because you never know what’s going to happen the next time we face them.
“Yes, we’re pleased that we got three ballgames in here, but we’ve got to continue to play baseball.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to get the Rangers excited. Perez, who has logged 26 consecutive innings, provided plenty of reason.
He became the first American League pitcher since Derek Holland in 2011 to throw a shutout in consecutive starts. Perez is the first pitcher in franchise history with consecutive three-hit shutouts and the first AL pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1998 to pull off the feat.
Rather than let his hair down and celebrate a little, Perez said something that pitchers usually say after a lousy outing.
“I’ve just got to turn the page and be ready for my next game,” Perez said after logging 109 pitches. “The game is finished, and I’m going to face Oakland again. I need to think how I’m going to pitch.”
Perez mastered one of the league’s top offenses by pounding down in the strike zone and by not falling into any predictable sequences. The A’s are one of the league’s best at dissecting a pitcher and anticipating what he will throw.
But Perez didn’t allow a hit until Jed Lowrie started the fourth with a single. Derek Norris was credited with a single to start the fifth on a chopper that deflected off third baseman Josh Wilson.
Both, though, were quickly wiped out as the next batters bounced into double plays, Nos. 10 and 11 this season for Perez. He had 13 in 20 starts last season.
The A’s put together a threat in the seventh, when Josh Donaldson doubled with one out and Norris walked with two. But Perez got Alberto Callaspo to bounce into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
After he got Donaldson to end it, Perez improved to 4-0 with a shiny 1.42 ERA.
“We have a plan, and he’s been really good executing the plan,” catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “He’s doing a really good job. He’s been awesome. He deserves everything that’s happening to him.”
The Rangers scored in the first inning for the third straight game and for the seventh time in the past eight games, striking first against Sonny Gray after Michael Choice drew a leadoff walk and Rios tripled with one out.
But a successful video challenge by A’s manager Bob Melvin erased another first-inning run when Rios, originally called safe, was ruled out at home while trying to score on a Prince Fielder grounder to shortstop.
Rios’ sliding lane to the plate appeared to be blocked by Norris before he took possession of the throw from Lowrie, an apparent violation of the new rules protecting catchers. Umpires, though, said that the Rios’ path hadn’t been blocked.
“He was blocking the plate,” Rios said.
The Rangers tacked on another run in the fifth, an inning that started with an infield hit by Leonys Martin and a sacrifice bunt by Wilson. Choice followed with a single up the middle for a 2-0 lead.
Murphy made it 3-0 with a towering fly ball that carried over the right-field wall.
That was more than enough for Perez, who got 12 runs of support in his first three-hitter Friday against Chicago. He finally admitted Wednesday afternoon that he, too, is excited by his early performance, but cautioned, yes, that it’s a long season.
Rios echoed the same sentiment when told that the Rangers were in first place.
“You shouldn’t be worrying about that right now,” he said.
It’s April, after all. Move along.
But there is something to see with these Rangers early on.