Lefty goes eight innings, his longest start since 2015
By Chris Bumbaca
NEW YORK -- In an American League ballpark, Martin Perez would have had the opportunity to finish off a complete game. But in the Rangers' 5-1 win over the Mets on Wednesday, which took place in a National League stadium, Perez's spot in the batting order came up second in the ninth inning.
Rather than have Perez hit again and risk racking up his fifth strikeout in the game, Rangers manager Jeff Banister opted to pinch-hit for the left-hander. The decision closed the book on Perez's afternoon, with his final line reading eight innings, three hits, one run, five strikeouts and no walks. After the game, Banister said Perez would have finished the game if the game was played in an AL park.
"However, National League game, look, you try to add on, try to push it to a five-run lead as opposed to a four-run lead," Banister said. "Yeah, there was some thought there. The opportunity to try to add on another run was probably the better decision."
Nonetheless, Martin turned in perhaps his best outing of 2017 Wednesday. He required only 89 pitches to keep the Mets off balance all day, primarily with his fastball-changeup combination, throwing 63 strikes and 26 balls.
"The ball-strike ratio, for him, was at a premium," Banister said. "And he had every pitch in play."
Wilmer Flores' solo home run to lead off the fifth was the Mets' first hit of the afternoon and accounted for the only run they could muster off Perez. It was the first time he completed eight innings this season and his longest outing since Aug. 2, 2015, when he pitched 8 1/3 innings against the Giants. The one run allowed matched his season low from April 14 of this year in Seattle.
Perez had lost his four previous starts, posting a 9.41 ERA (23 earned runs in 22 innings) over that span. Most recently, he allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings against Minnesota and entered Wednesday's game with the third-highest ERA among qualified starters. But even his teammates noticed how he was determined to right the ship.
"Last start didn't go his way," said Joey Gallo, who clubbed a three-run homer in the first inning. "Just talking with him, he was upset about it. He was down about it. But he was really excited to get back on the mound."
After that last start in Minnesota, Perez immediately pulled up video of himself to get to the bottom of his troubles. The placement of his hands was something he noticed and what he chose to fix. It worked.
On Wednesday, he held his hands higher before starting his windup, closer to the top of his chest and neck, rather down toward his waist. That setup, he believes, allowed him to consistently finish his motion out in front and create a more advantageous separation between the ball and glove during his windup, while also providing a different element of deception. Perez also feels he attacked hitters on both sides of the plate, as well as up and down in the strike zone.
"That's how it has to stay right now," Perez said. "That's going to be my focus."
As for not pitching the ninth and earning his first complete game since April 23, 2014, Perez accepted Banister's decision, even though he knows he could have gone back out to the mound for one more inning.
"I don't like to hit, man," Perez said. "I don't like to hit. I just like to pitch."
Chris Bumbaca is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Rangers on Wednesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.