The National League’s brand of baseball prevented Martin Perez from pitching more than five innings Saturday afternoon.
The left-handed pitcher isn’t a very good left-handed hitter, so the Texas Rangers used a pinch hitter for him to lead off the sixth inning. They needed base runners to chip away at a four-run hole.
So, Perez also had a hand in his early exit at AT&T Park, even though he rebounded from the San Francisco Giants’ big first inning and was in control when the batting order came around to him for a second time.
Perez is five weeks away from having no control over his future.
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He allowed four runs in the first, and the Rangers’ offense didn’t get going until Rougned Odor connected for a three-run homer in the eighth inning of a 5-3 loss. Perez is now 2-6 this season with a 6.95 ERA, and 0-3 with a 5.63 ERA in eight starts since coming off the disabled list last month.
This three-game interleague series concludes Sunday afternoon with the Rangers facing Derek Holland, now two teams removed from the Rangers. He was twice in the same situation with the Rangers that Perez will find himself in the off-season.
The Rangers hold two more club options on Perez. A team that needs starting pitchers has a decision to make, though Perez is making it easy on them with each dicey outing.
But Saturday marked the latest example of the Perez tease. He pitched poorly and then nearly perfectly, all in the same start, trending to the disappointing side that has dogged him for years and surging to the hopeful side that has kept him around seven seasons.
An eighth isn’t guaranteed.
“It’s just ups and downs,” Perez said. “I need to find a way to be more consistent. I need to do what was I was able to do today in my last four innings, and I’ll be fine.”
The big blow against Perez was a three-run homer by Brandon Crawford in a first-inning left-on-left matchup with two outs. It turned a nice escape by Perez into a big inning for the Giants.
He recovered nicely over the next four innings, allowing only two hits and recording all four of his strikeouts after a four-run, three-hit, one-walk first. But his first-inning struggles have the Rangers thinking about using a reliever in the first — the Opener — in his next start.
“We’ve seen the challenge of Martin in the first,” manager Jeff Banister said.
The Rangers, meanwhile, had only two hits in the first five innings and had only three in the first seven before a two-out rally in the eighth that Odor capped with his 17th homer of the season.
The Rangers had the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth, but pinch-hitter Carlos Perez, who was recalled Saturday morning and didn’t arrive until the third inning, popped to left field.
Holland will present the Rangers with another lefty Sunday, and he isn’t the same pitcher he was when they beat him twice last season. That was his first season after the Rangers turned down the final option on his contract.
This season, barring a final-month meltdown, will rate as one of the best of Holland’s career, and it could catapult him to a multi-year contract the off-season after he wasn’t sure he would pitch again.
His 2017 season with the Chicago White Sox was a disaster, and it ended with him being released before the end of the season. Holland had to sign a minor-league deal with the Giants in the off-season and needed a few injuries to make his way into the rotation.
“I was worried about, ‘Am I even going to get to play again?’” Holland said. “I didn’t expect to be a starter. I was looking at it as I would get a chance to start and I knew if I didn’t make it as a starter I would could out of the bullpen and keep going kind of like a Darren Oliver or Eddie Guardado. And I was OK with it.”
Holland has been in the rotation ever since and will take a 6-8 record an 3.75 ERA into his three career start against the Rangers. Holland has 137 strikeouts in 134 1/3 innings after hitting rock bottom last season.
He was open to any and all suggestions from Giants pitching coaches, who didn’t do anything radical with him. Holland pitches from a different side of rubber than he did with the Rangers, but otherwise his arm slot and mechanics are the same.
“If I want to make my career go any longer, I have to try new things,” Holland said. “I’ve got to listen to what other people’s opinions are when it comes to pitching.”
The club option on Perez for next season is for $7.5 million. The buyout is $750,000.
That isn’t a ton of money, and general manager Jon Daniels is under no orders to trim payroll as the Rangers wade through a rebuilding phase. But Daniels will wonder how much value there is an innings-eater, which is what Perez has been when healthy, at $7.5 million.
The Rangers could decline the option and agree to a deal for less money, and Perez, who wants to stay put, might be open to that. Or they might part ways, making Perez a free agent who might have to fight for a rotation spot elsewhere next spring as Holland did this year.
“I just need to stay positive and strong and work to be back in five days and win a game,” Perez said.