The Rangers brought in some new additions to their rotation at the deadline, acquiring both Max Scherzer from the Mets and Jordan Montgomery from the Cardinals. One of them will replace Nathan Eovaldi, who recently landed on the injured list. Another opening will be created by veteran Martín Pérez getting bumped to the bullpen, reports Shawn McFarland of The Dallas Morning News. “It doesn’t mean that’s where he’s going to stay,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the move for Pérez. “But for this time around, that’s the plan.”
Pérez, 32, has a long track of being a serviceable major league pitcher. By the end of the 2021 season, he had tossed 1102 2/3 innings, allowing 4.71 earned runs per nine innings. His 15.3% strikeout rate was well below average, but his 8.3% walk rate and 49.2% ground ball were both solid enough to allow him to be of use.
For 2022, he signed a one-year, $4MM deal with the Rangers and went on to have a career year. He made 32 starts and posted a 2.89 ERA over 196 1/3 innings, getting his strikeout rate up to a career high of 20.6% while still limiting walks and grounders. That earned him a well-deserved raise, as the Rangers issued him a $19.65MM qualifying offer, which he accepted.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to build off that late-career breakout. His strikeout bump has vanished, as his 14.4% rate this year is low even by his standards. The walk rate is still solid at 8.6% but he’s only getting grounders at a 41% clip, a huge drop from last year’s 51.4% rate. His ERA on the year is 4.98, with only five qualified pitchers worse than him in that department this year. It’s also been trending in a bad direction, as he had a 2.41 ERA at the end of April but a 6.15 mark since the start of May.
With those results, it’s not shocking that he’s been nudged out of the starting mix. This is a road he has travelled down before, as the Red Sox bumped him to the bullpen in 2021, though he was able to get back on track with the aforementioned breakout in 2022. Perhaps he will do so again at some point but the Texas rotation will now seem to consist of Scherzer, Montgomery, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning.
Dunning started the year in the bullpen but jumped into the rotation when Jacob deGrom landed on the injured list, later to require Tommy John surgery. In 16 starts since the start of May, Dunning has a 3.43 ERA. His 17.6% strikeout rate in that time isn’t especially impressive but he’s higher than Pérez in that department while also walking just 6.7% of hitters and keeping the ball on the ground at a 44.9% clip.
It seems those strong results will allow him to keep his starting gig, at least for the time being. As Bochy mentioned, the club could mix things up again in the months to come, though the group could get a bit more crowded. Bochy expects the club to have Eovaldi back after a minimum IL stint, per Kennedi Landry of MLB.com, which will make it harder both for Pérez to get back in the mix and for Dunning to keep his spot. Perhaps Eovaldi’s return would see Dunning hold his spot and Heaney get bumped to the bullpen since the latter has a lackluster 4.36 ERA on the season. But he has been trending better of late, with a 2.95 mark in his last four outings.
Of course, the final few months could also see some plot twists that change all of this, best laid plans and whatnot. The AL West is shaping up to be a fascinating race to watch in the final months, as the Rangers made their aforementioned rotation additions while the Astros got Justin Verlander and the Angels nabbed Lucas Giolito. The Rangers will undoubtedly be making whatever moves they feel give them the best shot at success in the weeks to come, with the large salary of Pérez not enough to keep him from the bullpen. He’ll return to the open market this winter while Dunning will qualify for arbitration for the first time.