ST. PETERSBURG -- There is a new competition going on in the Rangers' starting rotation: the race to keep from losing your spot to Bartolo Colon.
Left-hander Martin Perez hasn't done much lately to help his cause, after allowing eight runs (seven earned) in his second straight start. He was done after four innings in an 8-4 loss to the Rays on Monday night at Tropicana Field. The Rangers' runs came on a solo home run by Joey Gallo in the fourth and a three-run shot by Nomar Mazara in the eighth.
This was Perez's third start of the season, and it pumped his ERA up to 13.14. In 12 1/3 innings, he has allowed 19 runs (18 earned) on 29 hits, seven walks and seven strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .453 off him.
"Martin continued to battle, but he couldn't quite get the feel for his sinker," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He tried to work on the edges and couldn't find the range there. Some of those balls came back across the plate."
Perez's early-season struggles may be an unexpected side effect of the fractured bone in his right elbow he sustained in December, forcing him to alter both his offseason throwing program and normal Spring Training routine. Either way, this is not what the Rangers expected from a pitcher who was 8-2 with a 3.71 ERA in his final 11 starts last season.
"It's never frustrating," Perez said. "You can't get frustrated or you are going to get lost. I will be ready. I have been through this before. I'll find a way to pitch good again. I know what I need to do. I'm going to fight through it."
Finding his sinker would be a good start, catcher Robinson Chirinos said. That's his best pitch.
"The sinker hasn't been working the last two outings," Chirinos said. "That's tough and frustrating for me. Sometimes it's there and sometimes we would try to go inside and it would come back over the plate."
In 2017, Perez allowed a hard-hit rate -- defined as a ball with an exit rate of 95-plus mph -- of 32.4 percent, below the MLB average of 33.7 percent for starting pitchers. But through his first two starts of 2018, he was at 56.4 percent, which was sixth highest of 177 pitchers (minimum 25 batted balls allowed). Perez then allowed eight more hard-hit balls tonight out of 19 total (42.1 percent), and one of the non-hard-hit balls was a bunt.
While Perez has never thrived on missing bats, his swinging-strike rate has dropped from 8 percent to 3.2 percent. He got just one swing and miss in his first start of the year, four in his second and three tonight.
"They were taking some pretty good pitches," Chirinos said. "Maybe he was tipping his pitches. Why were they taking those pitches, especially late in the count? We need to look at the video and see what he is doing."
For now, Perez will continue to get the ball. Doug Fister is on the disabled list with a strained right hip muscle and is not expected to be back for another couple of weeks. Colon is currently holding down Fister's spot. But Colon has been the Rangers' best pitcher through the first three weeks of the season. The Rangers aren't going to be inclined to take him out of the rotation once Fister returns.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Profar leaves with injury: The Rays scored four runs in the second, but the Rangers might have limited the damage by turning a double play. With the bases loaded and nobody out, shortstop Jurickson Profar fielded Joey Wendle's grounder at second, stepped on the bag for the force and threw wildly to first. Two runs scored on the play and Profar had to leave the game after getting upended. He entered MLB's concussion protocol and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
Drew Robinson was hitless in his last 14 at-bats, including 12 strikeouts, when he finally broke through with a sixth-inning single. Shin-Soo Choo was 0-for-17 before his eighth-inning single. In addition, Mazara had gone 13 straight games without an RBI -- a career high -- before hitting his three-run home run in the eighth.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gallo's sixth home run of the season was crushed to deep center and landed on the D catwalk. It had an exit velocity of 111 mph, a launch angle of 28 degrees and the projected Statcast™ distance was 430 feet. It was the first home run Blake Snell had allowed to a left-handed hitter in his young career. Snell had gone 156 at-bats without giving up a home run to a lefty.
HE SAID IT
"You are going to go through these stretches. A lot of teams go through the same thing. You still have to compete. I have said it before, nobody is going to feel sorry for you." -- Chirinos
Left-hander Matt Moore makes his first career start against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night at 6:10 p.m. CT. He was drafted by the Rays in 2007 and pitched for them from 2011-16 before being traded to the Giants. Moore is 21-14 with a 3.76 ERA in 48 career starts at Tropicana Field. Yonny Chirinos will start for the Rays.