Perez impressive in first Major League start
Right-hander strikes out seven, allows one run over five innings vs. Rays
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was concerned when Williams Perez completed his bullpen warmup and entered the home dugout 15 minutes before he was scheduled to throw the first pitch of his first career start on Wednesday night at Turner Field.
But approximately three hours later, Gonzalez was praising the poise and determination Perez had displayed while navigating his way through five strong innings and helping the Braves claim a 2-1 win over the Rays.
"Usually those starters don't sit around that long, especially [before a home start]," Gonzalez said. "But he did terrific, you can't ask for anything more from him."
Perez certainly had reason to be excited about the opportunity he was presented when the Braves opted to move him into Eric Stults' rotation spot this week. The Venezuelan right-hander spent five seasons in the Minors before he finally started to gain some notice during the strong season he had for Double-A Mississippi last year.
After proving quite effective in five starts for Triple-A Gwinnett this year, he joined Atlanta's bullpen earlier this month and immediately completed two unimpressive relief appearances. But as he limited the Rays to one run and notched seven strikeouts, he showed the value of his secondary pitches -- a curveball and a changeup -- while working multiple innings as a starting pitcher.
"That was one of the best things, having both the curveball and the changeup," Perez said. "That is one of the reasons I pitched so well today."
Perez, who turns 24 on Thursday, certainly earned the right to make at least a few starts for the Braves.
After surrendering two singles in the fifth inning, Perez ended his 79-pitch effort by notching consecutive strikeouts against Steven Souza Jr. and Evan Longoria. He used his curveball to complete three of his strikeouts, including his last two. His changeup concluded two of his other strikeouts.
Perez was forced to make an early exit because he had not thrown more than 34 pitches in either of the two relief appearances since totaling 79 pitches in his final start for Gwinnett on May 3.
"You know, those two outs there in the fifth are going to go a long way for his development in the future," Gonzalez said.
Perez minimized damage when he surrendered a pair of singles and a long sacrifice fly in the first inning. But his best escape act occurred in the fourth inning when he loaded the bases with just one out and then used his trusty sinker to get Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into a threat-averting double play that first baseman Freddie Freeman skillfully began with a strong, accurate throw to shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
When Perez received Simmons' throw at first base to record the out, he displayed his excitement by spiking the ball in the infield dirt.
"You like to see guys pitch with emotion," Gonzalez said. "I've got to learn from him a little bit and see how he goes about his business. But so far, he has done a nice job."