The hottest hitter in the major leagues once again is Adrian Beltre, who can carry a team when his big bat is churning out the home runs and RBIs the way it has been the past two weeks.
But his contributions have come to be expected since he was signed as a free agent before the 2011 season. As hot as he is, manager Ron Washington and Beltre’s Texas Rangers teammates have seen him produce like this on other occasions.
What they haven’t seen, though, is what left-hander Martin Perez has done since his second chance at the big leagues this season.
“He’s a different guy than he was the first time,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
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A composed Perez allowed two earned runs in six innings, and Beltre backed him with two homers and five RBIs as the Rangers doubled up Baltimore 8-4 on another steamy night at Camden Yards.
Perez improved to 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five starts this season but is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts since being recalled from Triple A Round Rock on June 22. The Rangers have won all four games behind a rookie pitcher who has shown poise and shown off the talent that has made him the organization’s top pitching prospect for the past four years.
“I don’t know if he’s unflappable, but the kid has ability,” Washington said. “Since he’s come back up here, he’s certainly showing that. He can execute pitches — he has more than one — and A.J.’s done a great job of helping him.”
Pierzynski said that Perez has kept his emotions in check, something he didn’t do in a May 27 spot start at Arizona that resulted in his lone loss this season. Perez had a chance to buckle in the fifth when third baseman Beltre and first baseman Robinson Chirinos booted balls to start the inning.
Baltimore eventually scored twice on a two-out single by J.J. Hardy after Chris Davis had been hit by a pitch to load the bases, but the inning could have been worse. Perez kept the Orioles from taking a lead.
“I just thought I had to compete and finish my inning,” Perez said. “I just missed that fastball [to Hardy]. I’m still learning, and I think I’m doing better.”
Beltre, who went 4 for 4, put the Rangers out front in the second by hitting the first pitch from Weatherford High School graduate Zach Britton (2-3) for his 19th homer. Baltimore countered with single runs in the second and the third before Nelson Cruz tied the game in the fifth with a two-out single.
Beltre followed and sent a liner into the left-field seats for a three-run homer and a 5-2 lead.
“I was looking for a pitch up in the zone that I could drive, and that’s what I got,” said Beltre, the reigning American League player of the week. “I’m seeing the ball well, I’m swinging at good pitches and I’m driving the ball.”
Jurickson Profar and A.J. Pierzynski had RBI hits in the seventh, and the Rangers benefited from an interference call on Manny Machado, who had struck out on a full count and wandered into the path of Pierzynski as he threw to catch Nick Markakis trying to steal second base.
Markakis, who had walked to start the inning, was called out for a key double play.
Pierzynski said he jammed his thumb slightly when his hand hit Machado, who had homered in the third, after releasing his throw. He said it was the right call.
“It was a huge play,” Pierzynski said. “You don’t see that called very often. I thought he stepped across the plate.”
Beltre finished off the Orioles with a broken-bat blooper that fell for a two-out RBI in the ninth. He is batting .488 (21 for 43) with six homers, three doubles and 11 RBIs during an 11-game hitting streak.
But the Rangers have seen him get hot like that. They haven’t seen Perez perform like he has in his second big-league stint this season and the fourth of his career.
“He’s a different guy than what we saw last year,” Beltre said. “He has more confidence. He’s attacking the strike zone. He looks like he’s comfortable out there. When you pitch with confidence, sometimes good things happen.”