The movement of the pitch, the pop of the mitt but more than that, the raised-brow reactions from Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre told manager Jeff Banister what he hoped to see.
Nearly two years after he underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow, pitcher Martin Perez was turning it loose in batting practice.
And as Banister observed, “It was electric.”
In last year’s Texas Rangers camp, Banister’s first as manager, Perez was mostly just another guy with a daily date in the training room. Another pitcher on the mend, as pitchers often are.
“I didn’t really get to see a lot of him in spring training last year,” Banister said. “But you watch batting practice the other day, and it was electric. He’s got Odor and Beltre facing him, and they’re coming out of batting box going, ‘Omigod.’
“When you see that reaction, you know he’s loose, he’s relaxed, he’s letting the ball go because he’s trusting the delivery.
“That’s what I’m seeing.”
The medical phenomenon being observed — let’s call it Dr. Obvious’ One Year Later Syndrome — suggests that in the first year after a major, surgery-inducing injury, a baseball player is tentative. He wonders whether whatever was broken has truly been fixed. He is afraid, as a result, to turn the dial to 11.
Martin Perez knew the feeling.
“I didn’t want to think it, but last year I was just thinking that I didn’t want to get hurt again,” the lefty from Venezuela said. “This year, though, that’s out of my mind. It’s going to be my second year after the surgery, and I think everything is OK.
“Time to let it loose.”
Dr. Obvious’ other Ranger to watch: Prince Fielder, also one year removed from a season of caution.
Banister buys into the theory because it’s only natural.
“Every pitcher, or even any player for that matter, that goes through an arm surgery, you don’t really know until you go out there and completely let it go,” Banister said.
“It’s not unlike a sprinter who’s torn a hamstring. You don’t know. You’ve just got to trust that everything that’s been repaired is healthy and ready to go.”
Perez was 23 years old when he started the 2014 season pitching like one of baseball’s breakout stars. He was 4-0 in his first five starts with a 1.42 ERA and an opponents OPS of only .509.
But something happened, probably in an April 29 start against Oakland, when Perez gave up eight runs and failed to make it out of the fifth inning. Two more poor starts followed, before Perez was holding an impromptu press conference in the ballpark’s video room to announce his impending Tommy John surgery.
Perez had gone from dominant to surgery in just three weeks.
His final start of that 2014 season was May 10. His subsequent first start of 2015 didn’t come until July 17 — a 14-month layoff.
Perez’s first three starts of 2015 were shaky, at best. But his final 11 starts showed that he was on the path to recovery.
Two games stood out in Banister’s mind — an eight-inning-plus start against the Giants when Perez allowed no walks and only two hits, and a late-September outing in Houston when he overcame a teammate’s two-out error in the second inning and kept his composure to retire 11 in a row.
So far in this camp, Perez has been pitching like the Perez of early 2014. If that’s the pitcher that the Rangers have, he could be the ideal No. 3 behind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels.
Robinson Chirinos, who has been catching Perez in workouts, has noticed the difference.
“He was kind of careful last year, making sure he wasn’t going to take a step back,” Chirinos said. “But right now he seems good. He’s letting it go. His ball is coming out great.
“I believe he’s going to have a great year.”
If so, the impact on the Rangers’ starting rotation would be … well … electric.