FORT MYERS, Fla.— Martin Perez isn’t interested in talking about 2018.
The starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers spent time dealing with an injury to his non-pitching elbow after an incident with a bull. Once back, he struggled and eventually was relegated to the bullpen.
The Rangers declined his option, and for the first time in his career, Perez was looking for a new team.
He latched on with the Twins in January, thanks in part to a relationship he developed with Minnesota general manager Thad Levine when the two were with the Rangers, and is now eager to look forward.
“I’m better this year. I’m on a new team and I’ve got new faces that want to work with me and want me to be a good pitcher,” Perez said. “I’m a better pitcher, and I’m ready for that.”
Perez, 27, seems to fit in well already, chatting with a group of his new teammates who gathered near his locker Friday morning. Along with Levine, Perez said he knew “all of the Latin guys and a couple of white guys, too,” already.
The rest, well, he’ll know soon.
“I like to have friends. I’m not scared to speak. I’m not scared to say my name to my new teammates,” he said. “We want to stay close and stay together if we want to win.”
To do so, they’ll be counting on Perez, who is the front-runner for the final rotations spot. He threw his second bullpen session Friday with manager Rocco Baldelli among those watching.
“He threw a great bullpen. He’s a good athlete, we know this already,” Baldelli said. “He’s able to repeat, he’s able to put the ball where he wants it, he’s able to manipulate the ball. There’s a lot there and it’s a great recipe for success, and any adjustments that he’s going through or wants to make, that’s exactly the mix of things that you look for in a guy that can take huge jumps.
“He’s already been a successful major league pitcher, and he has all the ability to get … better.”
Perez, after missing two months, said he spent last season trying to find his rhythm, which was hard for him. He finished the year with a career-high 6.22 earned-run average and 1.781 WHIP (walks and hits per inning) in 85L innings. In parts of seven seasons as a starter for the Rangers, he holds a career 4.63 ERA.
The 2018 numbers were a bit more encouraging for Perez near the end of the season out of the bullpen, but he views himself as a starter, and that was a consideration for him when choosing Minnesota over other teams that wanted him to move to the bullpen.
“I’ve started all my career, and I think I’m still too young to move to the bullpen,” he said. “I’ll be ready to do my job in any situation and any role that they want me to be.”
When he signed, he said the Twins had a few ideas for him to help improve upon his disappointing 2018 campaign. He’ll get a chance to start working on those this spring.
The Twins will help with “a couple of things that I think are going to help me this season when I make some quick adjustments on my delivery and with a couple pitches, where I need to put the ball,” he said. “I’m open to everything. I’m open-minded, and I think you learn something every day. I’m not selfish. If they tell me something that’ll be good for me and I’m going to be a better person and a better pitcher, I’m going to try it, and if I feel good, I’m going to put it in my stuff during the game.”