Perez controlling the effort

ROUND ROCK, Texas – After yielding just three earned runs over his last five Triple-A starts, left-hander Martin Perez is set to make his return to the major leagues on Saturday. Lone Star Dugout caught up with Round Rock pitching coach Brad Holman to discuss the 22-year-old lefty's progress.

Pure stuff has never been an issue for Rangers top pitching prospect Martin Perez. His command––and more specifically controlling the effort level in his delivery––has been another story over the last few years.

But as Triple-A Round Rock pitching coach Brad Holman explains in the following interview, Perez is beginning to mature on the mound.

Over the last couple years, Perez has had issues with controlling the effort level in his delivery; he too often overthrew, pulling himself off-line and leading to command problems. But in six starts with the Express this year––in addition to his strong showing in spring training––Perez has largely remained within his delivery and maintained his direction to the plate.

As a result, the southpaw has earned another big-league call-up. And this time, it's not to fill in for an injured pitcher, as was the case in his previous stints. In other words––if Perez pitches well, he may be there to stay.

Perez has posted a 1.75 ERA in six Triple-A starts this season. Through 36 innings pitched, he yielded seven earned runs on 29 hits, walking eight and striking out 28. He has also induced 1.77 groundouts per air out.

The Venezuela native has been pounding the lower half of the zone––throwing strikes and getting ground balls––with his lively fastball, which has sat between 92-94 mph and reached up to 95-96 on occasion. With Perez controlling his delivery this season, everything has looked a little more smooth. His velocity has jumped up a notch, he's snapping off his curveball with more consistency than in the past two years, and he's commanding his fastball/being much more efficient on the mound.

Of course, the major leagues will provide Perez's biggest test yet. He's showing that he can control the effort level in the lower-pressure Triple-A environment. If he can do it in the major leagues, his stuff will lead him to success and his likely future as a no. 3 big-league starter.

I recently caught up with Holman to talk about Perez's development this season:

Jason Cole: Give me your general thoughts on Martin Perez's outing tonight.

Brad Holman: Pleased. I think, from where he has been to where he is now––he has had some highs and lows and high expectations of him. The one thing he is kind of focusing on right now is just not allowing himself to throw an emotional pitch––learning to release that past result or whatever happens that instills emotion, and he did a great job with it tonight. Obviously the ability to execute and the outcome of the outing and ability to pitch out of tough situations was all involved with that. I thought he did a great job.

Cole: Is it just me, or does Perez seem to give up more bloop hits and bleeders than any other pitcher here in Triple-A? That's what all of the hits against him were tonight, and that seems to happen every time out.

Holman: That's right––not one hard-hit ball. The last inning, he gave up a couple of hard-hit balls that went at the first baseman––to the opposite field. But other than that, yeah. I don't know if it's something that he is just plagued with. I think he's a guy who, his stuff is so good, it's hard to center his pitches. Obviously sometimes, especially with a team like Albuquerque––they've got a lot of speed––so sometimes balls find holes and drop in the outfield.

It's frustrating for anybody, but I think in the past you'd see Martin react to that in a different way. And tonight, he just didn't react. He just got back up on the mound and got ready to face the next hitter.

Cole: What's the key to channeling that? In his final inning tonight, there was a runner on third with one out, and all of the sudden he was commanding 95-96 mph fastballs consistently to get out of the jam.

Holman: Well, the key is actually a specific mechanism. We're using a big exhale of breath, which is something a lot of pitchers do naturally. When you get into an intense moment, I think the tendency is to kind of hold your breath and compete hard and kind of forget the compete smart factor.

I think, with Martin, he's just releasing some air and relaxing himself before he throws the next pitch. And his goal is on the execution of the pitch, not how hard he can throw it in there.

Cole: In your mind, is that the biggest thing that has been standing between Perez's fantastic raw stuff and his ability to reach his ceiling?

Holman: I do. For him, too, it's not a surprise, with his age, for him to have that type of emotion. It's a good thing, in a sense, because it means he's competitive. The only thing that hurts him is his ability to execute a pitch as a result of trying to over-torque the baseball. It's him learning, in his delivery when there's an issue, whether or not it's a mechanical issue or an emotional issue. And I think with Martin, it's a little bit more emotional for the sake of him just over-competing.

Cole: Perez broke off some of the better curveballs I've seen out of him in a couple years tonight. How did you feel about his curveball overall in this outing?

Holman: Obviously the curveball––as well as all his other pitches––are above average. I think it goes hand-in-hand with what we just talked about––the ability to execute his pitches. But not just execute––also kind of let them happen instead of trying to muscle them or force them. As a result of relaxing and throwing and not trying to force his pitches, the hand speed travels a little quicker, and it's just much easier to execute on a consistent basis.

Cole: Perez began working with a slider last season, and he used it quite a bit tonight. How big of a piece of his repertoire is that slider becoming?

Holman: Well, for me right now, it's probably his fourth pitch. But I think down the road, it's going to be a needed piece for the sake of ground balls and quick contact. And the same with his sinker––he's throwing a two-seamer periodically that is getting good action.

But for the sake of getting quick outs and not feeling the need to make everybody swing and miss, I think it's going to be an important pitch. It's a good pitch right now. It's just now a consistently honed pitch.

Cole: I only saw tonight's start, but obviously I saw him throw a number of sliders. Is he throwing it more often than he normally would right now for developmental purposes?

Holman: Not necessarily by design. I think he's starting to throw more just because he understands the need to have that pitch and have something going a little more left-to-right. I do think, though, in regards to what he does in his delivery, when he overthrows the baseball he tends to get rotational and pulls the ball across the zone. Obviously the slider is a little bit of a detriment in that regard because it allows him to do that. And so it's just being cautious with the pitch and trying to use it more for strikes and for contact than being a swing-and-miss option.

Cole: Have you done anything with Perez's mechanics while he has been in Round Rock?

Holman: No. It's just, like I said, a mechanical issue created as a result of an emotional issue. I think it'd be almost a waste of time to address what he's doing mechanically without first addressing the emotional aspect of it. It's him; he's going to have to tame it a little bit. It's like taming a wild horse.

It's a good problem to have because he's competing hard, and it's just him learning how to contain that energy and release it when he needs it as opposed to when he's just letting a frustrated approach get in the way.

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