By Stephen Hawkins Associated press

ARLINGTON — Martín Pérez was nearly a year away from making his league debut with the Texas Rangers and pitching in 2011 at Triple-A Round Rock, where one of the receivers was a future MLB manager.

“He was very young…Very well thought out by the Rangers and all of baseball. Great prospect, super talented,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, then in his final season as a player. “I think what we saw at Round Rock is that if this young boy can stay healthy, he’s going to have a really good career.”

Now in his 11th major league season and returning to Texas after three seasons away, Pérez is enjoying the best streak of his career. The 31-year-old southpaw entered Thursday as the MLB leader with his 1.56 ERA.

His nine straight quality starts tied the longest in Rangers history, with the only longest active streak in the Majors 10 in a row by San Diego’s Joe Musgrove.

Pérez was the American League pitcher of the month in May, when on the final day he pitched seven scoreless innings against Tampa Bay. Perez retired the last 16 Rays batters he faced after pulling out a 97 mph one-liner to his right leg.

In his only June start so far, Pérez allowed two runs over six innings in a no-decision game against Seattle. He allowed his first homer of the season, but worked from a heavy jam early on without scoring and walked away with Sunday’s game tied at 2.

“The old Martin might have been frustrated, and when he was loaded with goals and an out, he wouldn’t have been able to make any throws,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said, calling it the one of the most impressive performances from the southpaw in a season full of them.

Prior to that, Pérez had gone at least six innings in eight straight starts while not allowing more than one earned run. He pitched a complete shutout at Houston and also went seven scoreless innings at Philadelphia.

“I think maybe I’m stronger mentally and have more experience,” Pérez said.

Signed by Rangers as a 16-year-old from Venezuela in 2007, Pérez was 21 for his big league debut in June 2012. He was 43-49 with a 4.63 ERA at Texas and has had Tommy John surgery in 2014, before moving to Minnesota in free agency for the 2019 season. He has spent the last two seasons in Boston, where he was dropped from the Red Sox rotation in early August and finished last year with 14 relief appearances.

“From last year to this year, I don’t give the hitters too much credit. I just go out there and throw my pitches where I want them,” he said. “And I think the focus that I have on my relievers right now, I think, has changed everything. Because what I do in the bullpen, I just try to incorporate that into the game. … I just try to pitch like I’m in the game, same attitude, same adrenaline.

The Rangers signed free agent Jon Gray to a four-year, $56 million deal in December before the MLB lockout to be their No. 1 starter. Pérez was awarded a $4 million contract at the start of spring training, hoping he could be a reliable starter in a rotation full of young pitchers.

Pérez lost his first two starts while allowing seven runs in eight innings, but the team’s oldest starting pitcher has an .88 ERA (six earned runs in 61 1/3 innings) in his nine starts from. His 1.56 overall ERA is the lowest in Washington Senators/Rangers franchise history for a pitcher in his first 11 starts in a season.

“He feels like he’s been executing throws at a more consistent rate so far this year,” Cash said. “He’s probably a little different pitcher than he was when he was 20, throwing 97, 98 miles an hour. There’s more pitchability there.

Mariners manager Scott Servais was in player development for Rangers when they sought out the teenage Pérez and signed him.

“So I saw him from day one, a good competitor, and he changed over time,” Servais said. “But his bread-and-butter pitch is his lead and his change… the command has probably been as good as it’s ever been for him right now, being able to move the ball both sides of the plate .”

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