RMLN – Perez shows progress in 2010 debut

FRISCO, Texas – The RoughRiders dropped a 1-0 decision to Arkansas on Monday evening, but left-hander Martin Perez pitched well in his first start of the season. Lone Star Dugout has notes and observations from the contest.

Frisco RoughRiders 0 – Arkansas Travelers 1

Martin Perez: 4.2 ip, 2 h, 0 r, 4 bb, 3 k (71 pitches – 45 strikes)
Brennan Garr: 1.1 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 2 k (17 pitches – 12 strikes)
Evan Reed: 1.2 ip, 3 h, 1 r, 0 bb, 1 k (33 pitches – 23 strikes)
Zach Phillips: 1.1 ip, 1 h, 0 r, 0 bb, 0 k (18 pitches – 13 strikes)

Monday night's contest between Frisco and Arkansas was a definite pitcher's duel, as neither team put together much of a threat offensively. The clubs combined for just one run on 11 hits, and each team had one double. It was native Texan Clay Fuller's two-out, RBI double off Evan Reed that eventually made the difference in the game.

Fuller's double was really the only ball the Travelers squared up all night. Arkansas' other five hits came on a mixture of infield hits and jam-shot singles to the outfield.

• Making his first start of the 2010 season, 19-year-old top prospect Martin Perez tossed 4.2 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, walking four and striking out three. He threw 71 pitches [45 strikes] in the game.

At first glance, Perez's walks may seem a bit troubling, but his command wasn't nearly as bad as the line. The southpaw walked the first hitter of the game on four fastballs that just barely missed the strike zone. His last three walks were spread apart–there were no random bouts with extreme wildness–and they all came on full counts.

FASTBALL – Perez showed his usual plus velocity for a lefty, sitting between 93-95 mph. He worked down in the 91-92 mph range at times, and he bumped 96 once. After Perez reached Frisco late last season, he wasn't able to spot his fastball down in the zone when working in the low-to-mid-90s–he had to take something off his fastball to do that.

But that wasn't the case on Monday. Perez consistently got ahead in the count [despite the walks] and pounded the strike zone. Overall, he threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 19 hitters he faced. When he threw first-pitch fastballs, that number was 10-of-12. Certainly not bad at all, especially when they're quality strikes.

Perez was not only working down in the zone, but he was also moving the ball to both corners well. He used the outside pitch to set up the inside pitch and vice versa. The strong command led to lots of ground balls–a nine-to-one ratio, in fact–and Arkansas lifted just one ball in the air against him [a popout to left on a 95 mph fastball] in the first four innings.

CHANGEUP – Perez also got plenty of ground balls with the help of his deceptive changeup. The hurler had trouble with overthrowing his changeup in Spring Training, and although the 83-86 mph velocity was largely the same as it was this spring [it was 79-83 last season], the pitch was outstanding.

Of the 12 changeups Perez threw, seven went for strikes. He got three groundouts, three swinging strikes and one called strike. Though he clearly prefers to use the pitch to right-handers, he also broke it out lefty-lefty later in the start.

Perez's change is the more advanced of his two offspeed pitches, and it will absolutely be a plus big league pitch–if it isn't already. Every time he threw the change on Monday, hitters were caught out on their front foot. Nobody squared it up, as usual. He worked down in the zone and let its natural fade and sink take over, causing hitters to either roll over it or swing through it.

CURVEBALL – Definitely his third-best pitch in the game, Perez threw just six of his 14 curveballs over the plate. A couple of Perez's walks came because he was unable to use his curveball as a put-away pitch with two-strikes, taking away his advantage in the count.

Even though he wasn't commanding it particularly well on Monday, the 74-78 mph pitch's potential was clearly evident. Perez tossed a few bad curves that didn't come out of the hand well, but the vast majority were tight, sharp-breaking pitches with excellent depth–even the balls.

Perez is clearly confident in his curveball [and his changeup, for that matter], and he isn't afraid to throw either pitch in any count to both lefties and righties. He seems to have trouble commanding the curve more often than not, but that's what the minor leagues is all about.

It's a new season, and Perez still projects to have three above-average pitches in the big leagues within the next two years. His primary focus for this season must be commanding the fastball–getting ahead in the count and working around the knees and on the corners. He did a good job of that on Monday, showing some progress from one season ago.

• Brennan Garr was solid in relief of Perez. He entered the game with two on and two out in the fifth, and he coaxed a weak groundout to first to end the frame. He then worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning on 12 pitches, getting a pair of strikeouts [one looking, one swinging] on an 83 mph slider and a 91 mph fastball, respectively.

The 26-year-old often runs into trouble when he gets behind hitters, but he threw first-pitch strikes to three of the four hitters he faced on Monday. Garr worked between 91-92 mph with his fastball, and he flashed a solid 80 mph splitter to a lefty for a swinging strike. The right-hander has the stuff to succeed in Double-A, and if he throws quality strikes like he did on Monday, he could turn the corner.

• Since Evan Reed entered the organization as a third-round pick in the 2007 draft, his fastball has never been in question. In Monday's outing, Reed sat in the 93-95 mph range, and his four-seam fastball has excellent natural life. However, the challenge has been finding a consistent put-away secondary pitch.

Reed has always thrown a slider, and he began mixing in a mid-80s splitter last summer. The 6-foot-4 hurler tossed a couple nice sliders–including one that broke over the plate for a strikeout looking against a righty–but he still struggles to command it with much consistency.

Although he allowed three hits and a run in 1.2 innings, he wasn't hit hard at all. Reed did leave a 94 mph fastball up in the zone, which led to a well-struck RBI double and the game's only run, but the other two hits were a soft infield single and a jamshot knock to right field.

• Zach Phillips worked between 86-88 mph as a starting pitcher with Bakersfield in '08, and he ticked up to 88-91 when working out of the bullpen last season. Phillips sat at 90-91 mph on Monday, but more importantly, he was spotting his two-seam fastball down in the zone. When Phillips gets ahead of hitters and commands his fastball down, he can be a dominant force.

Phillips faced five hitters and mixed in all three of his pitches [11 fastballs, four curveballs, three changeups] in the outing. The lone hit he allowed was an excuse-me check swing roller down the third-base line. Phillips is more of a fastball-curveball pitcher to lefties, and he has a solid curve, but his changeup is generally the better secondary pitch. The southpaw's low-80s change is a swing-and-miss pitch to right-handers, and it also helps induce plenty of ground balls.

Prospect Video

Martin Perez warms up before Monday's start

1. James Tomlin, CF (0/4, K)
2. Guilder Rodriguez, SS (2/4, SB, CS)
3. Joey Butler, RF (0/3, BB, 3 K)
4. Wes Bankston, LF (1/4)
5. John Whittleman, 1B (1/4)
6. Kevin Richardson, C (1/4, 2B, 2 K)
7. Jonathan Greene, 3B (0/3, K)
8. Matt Lawson, 2B (0/3, 2 K)
9. Renny Osuna, DH (0/3)

The RoughRiders were shut down by a quartet of talented Arkansas hurlers–Ryan Brasier, Ismael Carmona, Jordan Walden and Amalio Diaz. The trio of relievers were particularly overpowering, combining to strike out seven batters in three scoreless frames.

A Fort Worth native, Walden is working out of the bullpen for the first time in his professional career, and he seems to be doing well in the role. Walden is a physically imposing presence at 6-foot-5, 240-pounds and he sat around 95-97 mph with his fastball, bumping 98 once. He got a swinging strikeout of leadoff man James Tomlin with an 82 mph curveball.

• Shortstop Guilder Rodriguez was the star of the day not only because of his two knocks, but also due to his outstanding play in the field.

Facing a handful of pitchers with plus fastballs, Rodriguez did a good job of being opportunistic and serving balls into the outfield. He didn't try to do too much, but he took what was there. Of course, having entered the season with 34 extra-base hits in 1,772 career at-bats, that's Rodriguez's normal approach at the plate.

The 26-year-old was brought back to Frisco more for his work with the glove than with the bat. Rodriguez has a nice mixture of athleticism, quickness, soft hands and an accurate arm. He helps save runs with his defensive work. The shortstop made a handful of excellent plays on Monday, including a couple where he went up the middle to snag ground balls before making an accurate off-balance throw to first to nail the runner.

• John Whittleman still has a good eye for the strike zone–he doesn't typically chase bad pitches. However, he is noticeably more aggressive than he was in the past. Whittleman was first-pitch swinging in two of his four plate appearances. He also laced a single into right field off Jordan Walden after working a full count in the seventh.

Frisco's lack of outfielders has caused Wes Bankston to play in left field, meaning Whittleman has been seeing lots of time at first base. The Houston native still looks a bit awkward when it comes to the nuances of the position, but he can pick it a little bit, as well. It'll be interesting to see how he develops defensively throughout the season if he remains there.

• Third baseman Jonathan Greene has put in lots of work to improve his game at third. He doesn't have the natural tools and isn't a plus defender, but he has improved his hands and footwork. Greene's plus arm plays well at the hot corner.

• Joey Butler entered the night 6-for-13 with a homer, three walks and zero strikeouts in his first four Double-A games. He wasn't so spectacular in game number five, however, as he struck out three times and walked once.

Butler put together a solid plate appearance in the first inning. While he wasn't able to catch up with Brasier's fastball, he fought some pitches off and worked a full-count walk. But the last three at-bats weren't so good. Butler had a fastball blown by him for a K in his next at-bat, and he chased sliders away and in the dirt in the last two trips.

• Overall, there's not much to say about this Frisco team offensively at this point. In five games, they've scored a total of eight runs. They have two runs over their last three contests.

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