Martin Perez knows he's not always going to blow hitters away. But with a heavy sinker and a new two-seam fastball in his repertoire, he can accomplish with one pitch what flamethrowers need three pitches to do.
The Rangers' top pitching prospect allowed one run on four hits while striking out three over six innings Friday as the Triple-A Round Rock Express edged the Iowa Cubs, 4-3.
Channeling his inner Crash Davis, Perez forced the I-Cubs to repeatedly pound the ball into the ground to all parts of the infield. You could describe his effort as "democratic."
"I just wanted to pitch to contact because I knew I would have really good defense behind me," he said. "The third baseman [Tommy Mendonca], the shortstop [Luis Hernandez], the second baseman [Yangervis Solarte], they were all great. I was able to get into a good rhythm and keep that tempo."
The 21-year-old left-hander induced eight groundouts in his season debut, relying on his defense to make plays behind him. Two days after celebrating his birthday, Perez -- who threw 45 of 70 pitches for strikes -- faced the minimum through two innings before working around Josh Vitters' one-out single in the third.
Iowa got on the board in the fourth on Welington Castillo's two-out double, but Perez retired six of the final seven batters he faced before turning over a 4-1 lead to his bullpen.
"I wasn't thinking too much out there, I was just pitching and throwing strikes," Perez said. "I threw my sinker to left-handers and right-handers and I was able to work my two-seamer inside and out."
Perez, who has 393 strikeouts over 314 1/3 innings since signing with Texas as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, relies on command just as much as velocity.
The 6-foot, 180-pound native of Venezuela only started throwing the two-seam fastball during the offseason, but it's already paying off. Moving away from right-handed hitters and in on the hands of lefties, the new offering allowed him to work quickly.
"Sometimes I would just aim for the middle of the zone and let the ball move," Perez explained. "I didn't want to walk anybody. By the third inning, that let me go to the curveball and slider.
"When the people behind you have the trust in you to tell you to go out and pitch to contact, you can sometimes get outs with just one or two pitches. The defense did a good job today."
Michael Bianucci homered for the second straight game and Joey Butler added a two-run shot for the Express.
Iowa starter Casey Coleman (0-1) took the loss after yielding four runs on five hits with five strikeouts over five innings. Cubs top prospect Anthony Rizzo was 2-for-4 with an RBI in a losing effort.