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Rangers give Perez most important start of career

Texas matches rookie lefty against Rays ace Price with Wild Card berth at stake

ARLINGTON -- Minutes after the Rangers defeated the Angels Sunday to force a tiebreaker game against the Rays at Rangers Ballpark on Monday, Texas left-hander Martin Perez was informed he'd receive the ball against David Price.

The rookie will have the chance to send the Rangers to their fourth consecutive postseason berth in the first tiebreaker game played for an American League Wild Card. Perez has only started 30 games but he feels more than prepared for the win-or-go-home situation.

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"When you're on this level, you have to be ready for whatever decision they make, and I'm ready," Perez said. "That's why I'm here. They trust me, and I just have to do my job."

Texas needed to win seven games during the final week of the season to tie for the final Wild Card spot with Tampa Bay. Perez turned a quality start against the Astros on Wednesday, allowing three runs on six hits in seven innings. The AL Rookie of the Month for August has a 2-2 record with a 3.48 ERA in five September starts.

"I think it's the same," Perez said. "I just have to do my job. If I go on the mound and think, 'OK, I have to win this game. I can't make a mistake.' That's not good. That's pressure, and I don't want that. I just want go in there and enjoy my game. I have the guys behind me, and they're going make good plays. I just got throw strikes and focus to keep my balls down."

The Rangers defeated the Rays in the AL Division Series in 2010 and '11, when they made their only World Series appearances in franchise history. The two teams went the distance in '10, when Cliff Lee outpitched Price and allowed just a run in a complete-game performance.

Perez, on the other hand, will make his first career start against the Rays. The rookie pitched five innings in relief, allowing two runs, last year at Tropicana Field in his only appearance against the club. He lacks the experience of Price, the AL's defending Cy Young Award winner, but Perez won't get caught up in the matchup.

"I don't face David Price, because he doesn't hit," Perez said. "I'm just going to face the hitters and just want to my best. I know it's an important game for us. I just want to go to the mound and have the same focus and throw strikes, do what I have to do to win the game because tomorrow's game is the most important game we have."

Perez joined the starting rotation on June 22 against the Cardinals due to injuries to Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, and he's 10-4 with a 3.48 ERA since. The Rangers have also dealt with ongoing injuries and suspensions in their lineup with Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.

Beltre, who hit his 30th home run on Sunday, has played through a left hamstring issue throughout the season and tweaked the muscle Sunday while rounding third in the sixth inning. The third baseman said he'll play Monday.

"It's not the first time Adrian has been gimpy," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He was gimpy when he hit that home run. There's nothing wrong with Adrian. Adrian will be on the field tomorrow."

The Rangers will activate Cruz before Monday's game. Cruz served the last game of his 50-game suspension on Sunday. Texas missed his presence in the lineup in September when it dropped seven straight games and fell to second in the AL West and eventually out of the top two Wild Card spots.

The All-Star outfielder was the most consistent hitter in the lineup before his suspension, batting .269 with 27 home runs and 76 RBIs in 108 games. He was an important piece in the Rangers' last trip to the World Series and was named the 2011 AL Championship Series MVP. He hit .364 in six games against the Tigers with six home runs and 13 RBIs.

"I'm sorry for my mistake, but I'm ready to move on," Cruz said. "I'm ready to focus on doing what I love doing, and that's playing baseball."

Starters Ogando and Matt Garza, who was acquired from the Cubs before the Trade Deadline, will be available out of a bullpen that has been the foundation of the Rangers' success this season. Relievers pitched 20 2/3 innings during the final seven games of the season. Setup man Tanner Scheppers and Nathan accounted for half of that, and both were used in five of the last six games.

"I didn't feel much out there," Joe Nathan said after he made his fourth consecutive appearance Sunday. "I felt kind of numb, lot of adrenaline. I think the situation changes a lot, too, but honestly I'm just trying to get three outs as quick as I could. Try not to throw too many pitches and allow myself as good of a chance to feel that good again tomorrow."

Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for

Texas Rangers, Martin Perez