Pitcher Martin Perez, a proud son of Venezuela, returned to the Texas Rangers clubhouse Monday after seeing the world.
The world was swinging for the fences, Perez found out.
“It’s not easy to pitch there,” the Rangers lefty said of his just-concluded World Baseball Classic experience. “Everybody’s hacking. Everybody’s trying to get on base.
“You’re facing the best from another country, and it’s not easy. Everybody was like an All-Star.”
He faced 14 hitters and allowed four hits and one earned run. It was enough to tag him with the loss in a 13-2 defeat that eliminated the Venezuelans.
But Perez returned to his full-time employers Monday buoyed by the memory of the whole scene — the chants of his countrymen, the honor of wearing “Venezuela” across his uniform chest and even the new friend he made.
Baseball people had told Perez before that his sinker can be nasty. But when the new “friend,” Venezuela teammate Felix Hernandez, assessed the pitch during the WBC, Perez came away with a newfound faith in it.
“He said don’t lose it, use it — it’s too nasty not to,” Perez reported. “He told me to use my sinker, and that I’m ready to do whatever I want to do in the big leagues. I just need to continue to believe in myself and use all of my pitches.”
Hernandez is the king of Venezuelan pitching, of course, if not necessarily the whole baseball-loving country. He and Perez became closer friends during the WBC tournament, and Martin said he absorbed everything that King Felix had to say about pitching.
Their team didn’t make the WBC semifinals, but Perez feels he’ll be a better pitcher this season because of the three weeks.
“He showed that he’s got good stuff and has the ability to get hitters out,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The WBC is a tough evaluation, really. You have guys that are at different points of their spring training routine. Some guys are hot, some are still working to get to that form. It’s a challenge to find all the takeaways.”
All positive intangibles aside, however, let me suggest that the Rangers privately would have liked to have seen Perez pitch more and perform a bit better. The box score showed him with 49 pitches last Saturday, the same day that Rangers teammate Yu Darvish was in Arizona, throwing 75.
“I have two more starts here, and I’ll be ready,” Perez assured.
In two games, Perez threw a total of six innings, struck out six and allowed 10 hits.
Not bad, considering he faced the savvy Puerto Rico lineup. But a guy who’s being counted upon to be the No. 3 starter on a World Series contender needs to be more in control of things. More Felix-like, if you will.
I don’t think that’s expecting too much of Martin Perez after his 2016 season.
“I think it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Perez said, back in the Rangers clubhouse. “The World Baseball Classic for me was good. I learned a lot.”
The Rangers have to hope so. Perez is a vital piece in their upcoming season.
He saw the world. The world swung back.
Now he just needs to work on the swings and misses.