Gil LeBreton

Lefty Perez key piece in Rangers’ 2017 rotation puzzle

Forget about first base and left field.

The trust fall move of Jon Daniels’ off-season was the Texas Rangers’ starting rotation.

You know — Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels and Catch Me, Somebody.

General manager Daniels made the bold decision not to gut the farm system for Jose Quintana. Instead, the Rangers spent prudently, adding bargains Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross.

It could work. But that’s up to Martin Perez.

Almost three years after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, Perez is being counted upon to be the No. 3 starter, or maybe the No. 3 lifeboat.

His 2016 season was encouraging — most of the time. His performances were solid — most of the time. But Perez again fell victim to inconsistency. Five innings of looking like Andy Pettitte or Ron Guidry, one inning up to his shorts in alligators.

The preseason magazines don’t know whether Perez is a breakthrough candidate or just an innings-eater, a sleeper or just a snore-inducer. They love his ground ball ratio and his immunity from the home run ball, but they wonder whether he’ll ever start missing some bats.

Perez, who will turn 26 one day into the season, has heard all this, and he doesn’t dispute it.

“Sometimes you don’t have your pitches, and you’ve got to fight,” he said Sunday in the Rangers’ spring training clubhouse.

“Maybe you don’t feel good, but that’s when you still have to do your job, stay focused and trust that your stuff is still going to be good.”

To the charge that 103 strikeouts in 198  2/3 innings is flirting with mediocrity, Perez spent the off-season preparing an answer.

“Yes, I worked on a curveball,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a surprise this year. I feel good about it.”

Perez said that teammate Cole Hamels started helping him with the pitch last season, and he took those lessons home with him to Venezuela over the winter.

“I think I’m close,” Perez said. “Before we leave Arizona, I’ll be good with that pitch.”

He likely will be thoroughly tested. Perez will pitch for his home country in the World Baseball Classic. He reports to Team Venezuela on March 6.

He’ll be on a pitch count early, as will all the major league pitchers who will throw for their national teams in the WBC.

This is one case, though, where the Rangers probably don’t mind seeing how one of their pitchers fare. Perez will be facing lineups laden with all-stars.

Another trust fall.

Manager Jeff Banister liked what he saw last season.

“Even with his inconsistencies, there were a lot of very consistent innings where he was really, really good,” Banister said.

“There wasn’t one game I can remember where there were challenges for him the whole game. It just seemed to be that one inning where he’d give up multiple runs.”

Perez, if he remains healthy, will be better this season, Banister asserted.

As a conspicuous sign of faith, Daniels and Banister parted with free agent lefty Derek Holland over the winter.

The message was clear. Perez, they feel, has the brighter future. He’s won the No. 3 starting job.

If he falters ... look out below.

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