Perez buying into the plan

Although left-hander Martin Perez isn't ready for a full-time major league gig just yet, he's made progress in his development over the last month. Lone Star Dugout takes a closer look at the 21-year-old prospect, who was called up by the Rangers on Tuesday.

Left-handed pitcher Martin Perez will likely make his much-anticipated major league debut this week after being recalled from Triple-A Round Rock on Tuesday.

If needed, the 21-year-old prospect could work out of the bullpen in a long relief role. Rangers manager Ron Washington has also said Perez may start against the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. That's the rotation spot currently occupied by righty Justin Grimm, who surrendered six runs in one-plus innings during his most recent start.

Regardless of his role, Perez's first big league stint probably won't be an extended one. He (along with Grimm) is filling temporary roster spot due to a rash of injuries within the Rangers' pitching staff. Starting pitchers Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Alexi Ogando are all currently on the disabled list. Reliever Koji Uehara is also on the 15-day DL.

The Rangers expect to get Holland and Feliz back shortly after the All-Star break. Holland is currently the closest to returning, as he'll make the first of three scheduled rehab starts with Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday.

Currently working with a 12-man pitching staff, the Rangers have called up Grimm, Perez, Michael Kirkman, and Tanner Scheppers from the minor leagues in recent weeks. Veteran starter Roy Oswalt also joined the team earlier this month.

There's no doubting that Perez isn't quite ready for the major leagues yet. But after designating reliever Mark Hamburger for assignment this week––and losing him to San Diego via a waiver claim––the Rangers don't want to drop another player from their 40-man roster.

The other 40-man pitching candidates were Jake Brigham (pitching relatively well in Double-A), Miguel de los Santos (returning from injury in a relief role with Frisco), Wilmer Font (in Myrtle Beach), Roman Mendez (on the Myrtle Beach DL), Neil Ramirez (recently sent down to Frisco from Triple-A), Yoshinori Tateyama (not capable of starting), and Matt West (returning from injury in relief with Myrtle Beach).

The only serious candidates for call-up would appear to be Perez and Brigham. Perez had not only pitched well in his last two starts, but he'd done so at a higher level than Brigham.

While the Venezuela native is having an up-and-down campaign at Triple-A Round Rock––posting a 4.59 ERA in 15 starts––his last two outings have been extremely positive.

On June 15, Perez hurled seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against Oklahoma City, although he walked five and struck out five. He hurled a 90-pitch complete game on June 21 versus Iowa, giving up two runs on three hits while walking two and striking out four.

In a recent interview with Lone Star Dugout, Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark spoke in-depth about Perez's progress and developmental plan.

Clark says he challenged Perez with a set of three goals.

"I think the three goals that were set for him four games ago––he has met all of those goals," Clark said. "One was basically getting four pitches or less––getting contact in four pitches or less. His last outing, he was 28 of 31 batters faced in that.

"The second thing was getting deeper into games. He's gone a 5.2, he has gone a six, he has gone a seven, and then he went a complete game.

"The third goal that was laid out for him is to basically leave your game with your team in order to get a win. And the last three games, he has left with that."

At the time of the interview, Clark couldn't have predicted the injury to Colby Lewis and known that Perez would be practically forced up to the major leagues just a day later. But Perez, who has had issues with attempting to overpower hitters and subsequently overthrowing, is beginning to show signs of buying into the overall plan.

Clark said the pitching prospect will see the ultimate reward of a full-time major league gig when he begins consistently reaching those three goals.

"The goals that have been laid out for him––he has accomplished those," Clark said. "So I'm very proud of Martin and what he's doing. We're trying to keep the goals in a smaller, attainable environment versus always looking to the long term.

"We're trying to get Martin to the big leagues. But the major leagues will come when he accomplishes Triple-A and is being more consistent in his starts. And I think he's off to a good start. I think he has had three and a half good outings."

Rangers fans have been hearing Perez's name since he reached Double-A Frisco at just 18 years of age in late 2009. But the bottom line is that he's still just 21, and the Rangers aren't looking to rush him.

This season, Perez has often pitched like a youngster who doesn't quite know how to use his stuff. He's had the issues with overthrowing, which causes him to fly open in his delivery and hurts his command. When he stays under control and keeps a direct line to the plate, he shows the ability to locate a lively fastball down in the zone.

Although he did that in his latest start––certainly a promising sign––he's still yet to prove he can do it consistently. Perez also has a tendency to overthrow when he gets into pressure situations. It's a sign that he's still got room to mature on the mound and still must prove that he can fully buy into the Rangers' plan.

The 6-foot-0, 180-pound hurler has worked best this season when controlling his mechanics and working between 89-92 mph with his fastball, which reaches up to 93-95 when he needs extra velocity.

Perez's fastball has excellent life––particularly when thrown in the low-90s––and he's done a good job of pounding the lower portion of the strike zone. Many of Perez's misses come side-to-side when he is flying open in his delivery.

The combination of fastball movement and location has made him difficult to square up in Triple-A this year. He's yielded 78 hits in 84.1 innings, given up six home runs in 15 starts, and has induced 1.4 groundouts per airout.

When Perez pitches in the major leagues, his fastball and overall solid stuff will probably keep him from getting knocked around. But he could still struggle if he's falling behind hitters and having trouble throwing strikes in general.

The prospect's go-to secondary pitch is his 81-84 mph changeup, a ‘dead fish' pitch with fantastic deception and good sinking and fading action. He's comfortable throwing the change in any count against both left- and right-handed hitters, and it has been a big factor in his recent success.

His mid-70s curveball has just been passable. He's often struggled to command the big breaker, and it hasn't been consistently sharp. Perez has added an 82-84 mph slider this season to give him another weapon. Still in its early stages of development, it's a promising-but-raw pitch that he mostly throws across the plate to left-handed hitters.

Now a four-pitch hurler, Perez will throw his fastball anywhere between 89-95 mph. He's got a plus changeup that can miss bats at any level. Both his curveball and slider could be usable in the majors right now, but neither has been consistent of late.

Perez has struck out only 49 batters in 84.1 innings this season. Although he still has good stuff, his command troubles have had him working from behind in counts for much of the season.

Perez likely won't ever be a hurler who strikes out a batter per inning at the highest levels. But if he begins striving for early-count outs––getting ahead and throwing more strikes in the process––he'll be able to set up hitters for the good secondary stuff in 0-2 and 1-2 counts with greater frequency.

The southpaw hasn't proven he can do that with consistency just yet. The Rangers––including Clark––are encouraged by Perez's recent willingness to buy into their three-step efficiency plan. But extended success in Triple-A would only further instill a belief in Perez to fully trust his stuff. It'd only help teach him that controlling his mechanics, locating, and sequencing is more conducive to upper-level success than simply overpowering with velocity.

Clark saw Perez doing exactly that in his last start, and he hopes the prospect is able to build on it.

"When (Perez) tries to overpower guys, that's when he gets out of his delivery," Clark said. "That's when you see the front side really pull away from his alignment.

"Sitting and watching––his changeup was really a plus against Iowa. As I sat back there, his alignment was really good. He used his changeup in appropriate places––especially in a lot of hitters' counts.

"I think all of that combined––it was really a big step for him. It was his first complete game. There were a lot of things that went along with that, and that mindset of getting deeper into games is what this organization is about."

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