Pérez's confidence, control on display in Classic start

After career year, left-hander will be key leader for Rangers' staff, clubhouse

March 12th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Two batters into Venezuela’s World Baseball Classic opener against the Dominican Republic, Martín Pérez was already down 1-0 after back-to-back hits from Julio Rodríguez and Juan Soto, and it began to look like the Rangers lefty and his home country were in for a long night.

But Pérez settled in after that, only allowing two more hits and no more earned runs, holding the star-powered Dominican Republic team to just that one run over 3 1/3 innings. He struck out four, with two walks, and finished with a better outing than the opposing starter, reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara.

Venezuela tagged Alcantara for five hits, three walks and three runs en route to a 5-1 victory, their first over the Dominican Republic in five World Baseball Classic meetings all time.

“I was able to control the game a little better [after the start],” Pérez said postgame. “I tried to control my emotions, and that's very important. I started executing my pitches and to do what I like to do, that is to locate my pitches well on the corners. And that was key in the game to pitch the way I did. I believe that as a team we did a great job. The pitchers attacked the zone. We did our job, and the hitters also responded.

“I'm mature enough to make adjustments quickly. I was staying in the present. What I did just to minimize the damage, I located my pitches. Salvador [Pérez] and I had a plan. I just wanted to locate my pitches, and that was something that was natural. We applied the game plan, and that's why we had accomplished good results.”

This is Pérez's second time playing in the Classic. His first came in 2017, when Venezuela finished eighth, and the southpaw gave up six combined runs in his two starts (six innings).

Pérez feels a different enthusiasm and energy around Team Venezuela during this year’s Classic, going even further than his own surging performance. He hopes to continue to help his home country compete this year, since Venezuela has never finished higher than third place in the Classic (2009). 

“Generally speaking, we are all on the same page,” Pérez said. “We came in with a goal. We started on the right foot, but we cannot be overconfident. We'll continue working. We have great energy in the clubhouse, good chemistry. All the pitchers want to do their best in order to contribute to the team and win.”

Pérez is coming off a career year in his second stint with Texas, when he earned his first All-Star selection while posting a career-best 2.89 ERA. Rangers manager Bruce Bochy has enjoyed watching Pérez from afar as the club continues to prepare for the 2023 season.

“He threw well, did a great job. And it wasn’t the best defense, but it didn't shake him at all,” Bochy said when asked to evaluate Pérez’s performance. “He just had a good look about him, and when he got the bases loaded there, he got out of that. He really won the game for them, I think, because he bailed them out early with that situation and made his pitches when he had to against a very, very good lineup. I thought he set the tone for Venezuela to pull off what I'm sure people look at as an upset with who they were facing, and so it's good to see. … He's fun to watch. He's got a great poise out there and a great pace. I enjoyed watching him.”

Bochy emphasized Pérez’s maturity in his outing against the Dominican Republic, noting that, while he didn’t know the southpaw in the early years of his career, it’s clear that Pérez has matured into the player he is today over that time.

More importantly, Pérez is the most healthy and stable of the Rangers’ starting pitchers, having logged 196 1/3 innings in 2023.

“He knows what he's doing out there, and he's got confidence,” Bochy said. “He sees what he needs to see as far as a Major League pitcher, and that's being in control, having the pace and controlling the strike zone. … He can log innings -- very good innings -- and that’s huge. You know you have to have somebody like that on your staff. I think he had that leadership quality you like in the clubhouse, just the way he carries himself. He has fun playing -- that’s what you love about him -- and it's going to get contagious in the dugout when he's around."