The Rangers moved a then-struggling Martin Perez from the rotation to the bullpen in early August, but the left-hander has righted the ship and pitched well enough of late that they’ll likely plug him back into the starting staff for the final stretch of the season. “I think that’s fair to say,” manager Bruce Bochy replied when asked by Jeff Wilson of Rangers Today if Perez had pitched his way back into a rotation role.
The decision to move Perez into a relief role was sensible at the time. The veteran southpaw made 20 starts for Texas earlier this year but had limped to a 4.98 ERA in 108 1/3 innings in that role — a far cry from 2022’s stellar 2.89 ERA in 32 starts (196 1/3 innings). The bullpen move has helped Perez get back on track; in 13 relief appearances, he’s logged 28 innings of 2.57 ERA ball with a 19-to-6 K/BB ratio and an enormous 65.9% ground-ball rate. That includes a particularly strong stretch over his past nine appearances, where he’s allowed just two runs in 15 2/3 innings while sporting a 15-to-3 K/BB mark.
Right-hander Jon Gray lasted just 2 1/3 innings yesterday before giving way to Perez, who came on to toss 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief and earn his tenth win of the season in the process. Perez tossed 64 pitches, allowed three hits and a walk, and punched out five batters in that nearly spotless performance. It was a much-needed respite for a Rangers bullpen that had been tasked with covering 23 innings in the team’s past six games.
Southpaw Jordan Montgomery is locked in as the Rangers’ top starter now that Max Scherzer’s regular season is likely over due to a strained teres major. Nathan Eovaldi is still building back up from a lengthy IL stint due to a forearm strain. He pitched five innings in his most recent outing — his longest since originally hitting the IL back in July. Dane Dunning and Gray have also been making regular starts, although Gray has hit a wall of late, yielding 13 runs in 13 2/3 frames over his past four starts combined. Rookie left-hander Cody Bradford made a start earlier this week — his seventh of the year but his first since late July — and was tagged for six runs in three innings.
Texas also has veteran starter Andrew Heaney as an option to start down the stretch, but there’s financial motivation for them to keep him in the bullpen role to which he was recently shifted. The second season of Heaney’s two-year, $25MM contract is a player option valued at $13MM, but that would jump to a $20MM value if he pitches 150 innings in 2023. He’s currently at 138 1/3 innings on the year, and keeping him in a relief role will likely keep that player option at the lower of those two values.
Perez’s return to the rotation will come at a pivotal time in the game’s most tightly contested division. The Rangers and Mariners are tied with identical 84-68 records, both sitting just a half game behind the division-leading Astros. Beyond that, Texas and Seattle play seven of their final ten games this season against one another, making every start of critical importance. If Perez indeed makes another start or two and helps push the Rangers into the postseason, he’d be an option to take the ball in a playoff start as well.
A strong finish to the year in a return to a starting role would also bode well for Perez this offseason, when he’ll once again be a free agent. His work out of the ’pen has improved his season line to a 4.49 in 136 1/3 innings. This season’s 15% strikeout rate is down considerably from last year’s 20.6% mark, and it’s a similar story with his ground-ball rate (51.4% in 2022; 45.6% in 2023). That said, if Perez can close out the year on a high note and perhaps show well in the postseason, he’ll have a decent case as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater who should command interest from clubs in need of innings.