ARLINGTON — For a few moments at Globe Life Field on Tuesday night, it seemed like Martín Pérez would have his shortest outing of the season.
The Rangers lefty was hit with a comebacker at 97 mph on his right shin in the second inning of a 3-0 win over the Rays, but after a lengthy injury delay, he opted to stay in the game despite a lot of bruising and slight swelling on the leg.
Pérez emphasized that if he wasn’t OK, he wouldn’t have insisted on going back out.
“As soon as they asked me to throw the ball, I knew I was good,” Pérez said. “I don’t feel anything. I [told them], ‘I’m good. This is not a reason to go out of the game.’ It’s happened to me in my career and I always stay in the game. I just stayed there to do my job and get the win.”
And for good reason. Pérez was even better afterwards.
He retired the final batter of the second inning on a fly ball to left field as well as the next 15 he faced. Out of seven scoreless innings, the final five were perfect as Pérez, who lowered his MLB-leading ERA to 1.42, moved seamlessly through the Rays’ lineup, amassing five strikeouts and no walks.
It was Pérez’s third start this month with seven or more innings and no runs allowed.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said it was almost like getting hit flipped a switch for Pérez. In the first two innings, Pérez allowed two hard-hit balls before the comebacker landed for a third Rays hit. He allowed nothing even close to a hit after that.
“I was concerned, obviously, after he got hit,” Woodward said. “But he comes in after and checks that the shin is OK, and goes, ‘That set me off right there. They woke me up.’ I just said ‘Oh boy, watch out.’ He proceeded to go five perfect after that. He didn’t need much to switch on and off from it. He was pretty good, obviously, for the first couple. But when he gets it dialed in, it’s pretty special.”
In all seriousness, Pérez noted that he did make a few adjustments with catcher Jonah Heim between the second and third innings to attack Rays hitters differently and get more efficient outs.
In the first two innings, Pérez said he was living on the outside corner and Tampa Bay was feasting. He knew if he didn’t change it up quick, it would’ve been a different game and outcome for him.
Pérez started throwing more four-seamers and sinkers on the inside corner instead, which made the “biggest difference,” he explained.
“He’s exceptionally good at figuring out what a team is trying to do to him,” Woodward said. “I think that’s where he separates himself from a lot of pitchers where he has the ability to kind of adjust and have different game plans to go against it. He’s really, really good at responding to what they’re doing. He’s got a game plan going in, but he’s not afraid to call an audible and say, ‘OK, I gotta change a little bit because they’re taking this or that away.’”
The win capped off a phenomenal month of May for Pérez, in which he allowed just three earned runs over six starts (42 1/3 innings). He went 4-0 and the Rangers won all six of his starts this month.
The last time an American League pitcher had an ERA lower than Pérez’s 0.64 in a month was September 2004, when Johan Santana posted a 0.45 mark (minimum 40 IP) for Minnesota.
It’s also the second-best month for a pitcher in franchise history. The only other Ranger with at least five starts in a month and a lower ERA was Yovani Gallardo (0.54 in June 2015), though he didn’t throw more than 40 innings.
“He’s like a video game,” Woodward said of Pérez. “Like when you’re playing MLB The Show, you can just click the button and it lands perfect, right where you want, and you know you’re going to get the guy out. That’s the way he’s pitched it. It’s not that easy, but he makes it seem that way. It’s almost like Neo in ‘The Matrix.’ This guy is seeing everything kind of in slow motion right now, and it’s showing up in the results.”