Make no mistake that Martin Perez remains convinced that he is not a relief pitcher, no matter how well he has done since losing his spot in the rotation.
And, with the exception of one outing, Perez has been very effective out of the bullpen.
“I want to be a starter,” the left-hander said.
He also wants to be a starter for the Texas Rangers, the team that signed him as a 16-year-old in Venezuela and the team that developed him into a major-leaguer.
“This is my home,” Perez said. “I’ve got my life here.”
It turns out there is an opening for him to return as a starting pitcher in 2019.
General manager Jon Daniels said last week to not rule out the possibility. Yes, the Rangers have told Perez that they are unlikely to pick up the $7.5 million club option for 2019 but could be willing to sign him back for less.
And there’s this: The things that have made him an effective reliever could help him as a starter.
“Let’s see what happens,” Perez said. “I’m just trying to stay focused on baseball right now.”
Perez didn’t pitch Wednesday as the Tampa Bay Rays completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers with a 9-3 victory. Adrian Beltre swatted his 475th career homer, moving into a tie for 30th in MLB history with Willie Stargell and Stan Musial, but young left-hander Yohander Mendez struggled in his fourth September start.
Perez tossed two scoreless innings Monday night in a 3-0 loss to the Rays and has allowed only three runs in 11 innings since last starting Aug. 25 at San Francisco.
The velocity on his fastball has increased and his pitches have been sharper overall. Many times a starter transitioning to a relief role will realize he doesn’t need to conserve his arm as much and can let the ball go.
He then realizes that he could have been carrying that velocity all along as a starter.
“It looks like each time he goes out there he’s a little more comfortable and a little more confident,” manager Jeff Banister said. “The thought was if he got comfortable out there and he was able to let the ball go and see what it was like, we felt the velo would tick up and he might find a little more sharp sink and a little more tilt on the breaking ball.
“I think when guys that are starters and go to the bullpen find out a little about themselves, that they’ve got a little more in them than what they’ve been working with. I’m not saying that’s the case with Martin. I just know that the stuff has ticked up.”
Perez said much of that is due to feeling healthy for the first time since breaking his right elbow last off-season. He came off the disabled list to start the Rangers’ sixth game but was back on the DL by the end of April.
The Rangers activated Perez just before the All-Star break and initially he pitched well before beginning to struggle again. His goal since moving to a relief role has been to show the Rangers and others teams that he is healthy.
“I’m trying to tell everyone that I’m healthy,” Perez said. “I want to finish strong. I want to continue to stay strong. A lot of people watch these games.”
The Rangers will need starters for 2019, with Mike Minor the only proven starter under contract. Despite allowing eight runs (seven earned) in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday, Mendez will get a look, as will right-handers Edinson Volquez, Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson.
Perez, at the right price, might be a decent addition for a rebuilding team.
He wants to start, and he doesn’t want to start over with another team.