PHILADELPHIA — Martín Pérez was far from perfect this time around — but the left-hander still emerged unscathed against the Phillies over another seven-inning gem on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Though Pérez allowed eight baserunners on four hits and four walks, he routinely pitched his way out of trouble to keep pace with Phillies ace Zack Wheeler — and he did all of that despite taking a 93.6 mph line drive directly to his right calf to begin the second inning.
Pérez quickly scrambled off the mound, gathered the ball and threw J.T. Realmuto out at first base.
“He got me, but I’m going to say that I got him at first, too,” Pérez said — though he admitted he was scared after it happened. So was Rangers manager Chris Woodward.
“I went out there and I didn’t think he was going to make it through two or three [innings],” Woodward said.
Pérez ultimately went seven scoreless.
“Sometimes you have to pay the price,” Pérez joked.
That said, it wasn’t easy at times. Pérez’s calf, which was visibly swollen after the game, started to lock up around the fifth inning. He uncharacteristically walked the leadoff batter in the fifth, sixth and seventh, but he escaped each time.
“Martín was an absolute warrior out there,” Woodward said. “Took a line drive to the calf — that’s not an easy thing. He couldn’t really use his lower half like he normally does, but he battled through it.”
Battling proved to be the theme of the night for Pérez.
Though he has kept hitters off-balance with his five-pitch mix, the sinker has been the key to Pérez’s success of late. After allowing hitters to go 5-for-10 and not recording a strikeout with the offering in his first two starts, Pérez has held opposing batters to a 2-for-15 mark with four punchouts using his sinker over his last two outings.
It was more of the same against the Phillies.
Pérez used the sinker to induce two of his three double-play balls, as well as two of his four strikeouts. The Phils went just 2-for-12 against the pitch overall, and opponents are hitting just .148 (4-for-27) with six strikeouts vs. Pérez’s sinker his last three times out.
“This year, I’m a little more focused and more experienced,” Pérez said. “I trust more of my pitches; I know what pitch I need to throw in any situation — what is good for a hitter and what’s not good. I’m just trying to throw a quality pitch every time, especially with runners on base, to keep the game close and get double plays and big outs.”
That sinker not only saved Pérez from his own imperfections, but it bailed out the Rangers on a night when their offense was anything but perfect.
Locked in a scoreless tie in the seventh, Adolis García was thrown out at home trying to tag up on Zach Reks’ popout to third baseman Alec Bohm in shallow left field. Two innings later, Marcus Semien was thrown out trying to steal second to end the top of the ninth.
But Texas kept pushing the envelope. Pinch-runner Eli White swiped second base to put two runners in scoring position with two outs in the top of the 10th, and former Phillie Brad Miller came through with a two-run single to finally break the tie.
A persistent offense is one of the marks of a winning team that Woodward is looking for on a more consistent basis from his young club. That was only possible on this night due to Pérez going toe-to-toe with last year’s runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award.
“Mentally, he’s in a really good spot,” Woodward said. “He’s free out there. He’s setting the tone in a lot of ways for our guys.”
As Pérez continues to emerge as a potential staff ace — he lowered his season ERA to 2.25 through five starts — Woodward can’t help but think about the potential of a rotation headed by Pérez and Jon Gray, who came out of Tuesday’s start fully healthy following his second IL stint of the young season.
“Him and Gray — when Gray gets back to full health and he’s full-go — it’ll be nice to have those two guys,” Woodward said. “They’re reliable.”