Martin Perez determined to win fifth spot

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Martin Perez has had the title of "top pitching prospect" in the Rangers system for three or four years now. It's time to move from prospect to player.

Perez, who is still just 21 years old (he turns 22 the first week of the season), certainly has the look of a guy determined to show he's ready to make the move to the big leagues and stay there. He got a taste of it in 2012 and gained valuable experience from it. And he arrived at camp more confident in his mechanics and more mentally prepared to win the job.

"I have to compete every day," Perez said. "Even if you lose, compete, compete, compete, compete, compete. That's what it's about. If you want to win, you have to compete. If you don't compete, you don't have a chance."

Got that?

Perez pitched one inning in the intrasquad game on Tuesday and threw all nine of his pitches for strikes. He said he worked in his entire repertoire and was pleased with the fact that he kept the ball down and got good reactions from the hitters. His demeanor was one of a pitcher who was confident in his stuff and felt like he could get anyone out.

"I think he's growing up a little bit," bullpen coach Andy Hawkins said. "He's more poised right now. He's still a young kid, but you can tell he's been exposed to big league players for a couple of years and it's starting to show. The way he handles himself overall is better.

Hawkins also sees confidence.

"He's always struck me as being a little cocky and I like that," Hawkins said. "I've got no problem with that at all. I just think he's a little more grown up now."

Perez said he's learned that what may have worked for him in the lower levels of the minors won't necessarily translate to the big leagues.

"I think I've got more experience and I think my mind is better now," Perez said. "When you're at (Class) A-ball you think, I'll throw 95 mph and get outs. In Double-A, you have to throw up and down and side to side. In Low-A, you throw 96 and they swing at everything. Here, you throw 96 for a ball, they say, 'OK, throw a strike.'

"The best thing I learned was to attack the zone early here."

Perez said part of his confidence also comes from a firm belief in what he's doing with his mechanics. It's working and that has him only feeling better. He said he isn't worried about what Robbie Ross, Kyle McClellan, Randy Wells or anybody else that's fighting for the fifth starter spot is doing. His focus is on improving his game.

"When I came here, I said, 'OK, what is my goal this year?'" Perez said. "I've got one: Stay in the big leagues. I'm working hard every day to learn something to help me and the team. When they give me an opportunity, I want to do my job."