Pérez is master course corrector in breakthrough season

August 20th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Martín Pérez strutted off the mound in the fifth inning, pounding his glove and cheering enthusiastically.

The Rangers lefty just got a swinging strikeout of the Twins’ Jose Miranda on a 3-2 count to end the inning and end a threat by Minnesota after he walked two batters earlier in the inning. Like he’s done so many times this season, Pérez got out of the jam and kept Texas in a close game at Target Field.

Pérez wasn’t particularly sharp early on, surrendering back-to-back homers to Luis Arraez and Miranda in the first inning, but he doubled down and didn’t give up another run as he gave the Rangers’ six solid innings in the 2-1 loss to the Twins on Friday night.

It was the first time Pérez had given up back-to-back home runs since facing the Nationals on Aug. 28, 2020, when he was a member of the Red Sox. Even with the loss, it was Pérez’s team-leading 17th quality start this season.

“Martín did his job,” interim manager Tony Beasley said. “For him to give up back-to-back home runs was uncharacteristic, but he settled in after that. He kept us in the ballgame and got through six strong innings. His pitch count was getting up there toward the end, and that was probably his last batter. But he got it done. He did a nice job and kept the game right there.”

Pérez said he thought the pitch to Arraez was good but he just put a good swing on the ball and that Miranda got ahead of the changeup for a pull-side homer.

After the first inning, the lefty adjusted his approach to avoid leaving pitches over the outside corner and began using more cutters to get the Twins hitters off balance. According to Statcast, Pérez throws his cutter 23.7% of the time, the third most of all his pitches. After making those midgame adjustments, he threw more cutters than any other pitch (30 of 97 pitches).

“We just changed the plan, and I was able to go five more innings after that,” Pérez said. “We had a chance to win the game.”

Over his past seven starts, Pérez has posted a 3.00 ERA through 42 innings, though the numbers are slightly inflated by a troubling seven-run outing against the Astros earlier this month. During that time, he’s tallied 46 strikeouts to just 23 walks.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who managed Pérez during his season in Minnesota in 2019, noted that the lefty has learned how to “own” both sides of the plate and effectively execute against each individual hitter.

“I think what he’s finding is that cutter that he’s back-dooring to righties is a really tough pitch,” Baldelli said. “The pitches that look like strikes are balls, and the pitches that look like balls are strikes. That’s a good plan. If you’re a pitcher in the Major Leagues with good stuff that can execute that and mix in a good changeup, too, you’re going to be OK. I’m happy for him, he’s throwing the ball very well.”

Despite his mistakes in the first inning being the difference in the game, Pérez’s performance and ability to course correct after a rough start exemplified everything you would expect from a veteran who reached 10 years of service time just a day prior.

That ability has been the main focus of Pérez’s breakthrough season and is in large part why the Rangers welcomed him back for a second stint with the club.

“Ten years is huge,” Beasley said. “Every player aspires to get 10 years, that’s a milestone for every Major Leaguer, and it’s a tough thing to do. To grind out 10 years at this level, it’s an honor. He was really excited about it, and we celebrated that. It’s unbelievable and it’s nothing to take lightly.”

“It feels the same,” Pérez said, smiling. “Same focus, same mentality, just trying to give the win to my team.”