ARLINGTON, Texas -- A lot of folks will want to talk about Prince Fielder's fourth-inning home run in the Texas Rangers' 5-3 victory Thursday over the Houston Astros, because he hasn’t hit nearly enough of them this season and it’s a tangible sign of progress.
Others will want to discuss yet another multihit game from Jurickson Profar or how Rougned Odor was the Rangers’ cleanup hitter -- the first Rangers second baseman to hit fourth since Michael Young did it in 2011 -- and homered in the eighth inning. A few might even want to dissect the performance of relievers Matt Bush and Jake Diekman, who earned his first save.
All of that would be perfectly legitimate, but the most important aspect of the Rangers' victory was the continued development of Martin Perez.
The Rangers won three of four games against Houston to extend their lead to nine games over the third-place Astros in the American League West. Understand, Houston had been one of the AL’s hottest clubs, winning 11 of 13 games before the Rangers beat them up and hit the mute button on trash-talking reliever Ken Giles.
Texas, which has the AL’s best record at 37-23, has beaten Houston in nine of 10 games this season. After the Rangers fell to the Astros for the first time on Wednesday night, Perez made sure the Stros didn’t build on that success.
Perez allowed just two runs in six innings for his fourth consecutive quality start and fifth in the past six games. He allowed four hits and struck out two.
If he hadn’t walked four batters, it would’ve been an even better performance. More important, he probably would have stayed in the game longer.
“I thought he had good stuff, but it’s getting him to trust the pitches in his strike zone,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “He kind of got a little agitated on the mound, and we had to settle him down.”
Perez has pitched at least six innings in seven straight starts and in 11 of his 13 turns this season. He has made it through seven inning just once, but it’s easy to spot Perez’s maturity as a pitcher, because he no longer panics when he faces a tough spot.
Instead, the left-hander gathers himself, takes a deep breath and works his way through such a situation with minimal damage.
That’s what happened in the third inning, when Houston took a 2-0 lead. Two walks and a single loaded the bases and brought Evan Gattis into the batter’s box and Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail to the mound for a visit. Gattis drove in one run with sacrifice fly and Marwin Gonzalez drove in another with a single, but Luis Valbuena grounded out to end the threat. Perez didn’t allow another hit.
The Rangers feel good about what they have in Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation. Colby Lewis has been terrific, but as he is 36 years old, you always wonder how his arm and body will hold up toward the end of the season.
The 25-year-old Perez is a guy who could be a big-time performer in September and beyond. Now he’s not a guy who wins with power. He has struck out only 43 in 78⅓ innings and has walked 38, which is way too many, but he consistently keeps the ball low and his propensity for inducing double plays -- a league-leading 17 -- usually prevents too much damage.
“I’m just trying to keep the game close, do my job and trust my pitches,” Perez said. “I tried to go out there with my best stuff and compete as hard as I could.”
It was good enough to help the Rangers win a club-record 10th consecutive home series.