How Martin Perez became the Red Sox' most reliable pitcher

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There was evidence it was in there.

Take Martin Perez's first seven starts of the 2019 season, for example. That guy went 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA. Or how about the five-start stretch last season in which he managed a 2.73 ERA.

But, still, there was the overall body of work that loomed. A career of inconsistency that landed the lefty with a major-league ERA of 4.65.

But the Red Sox insisted there was more. So did Perez.

Sure enough ...

Perez highlighted what has been an impressive 2021 season to date with 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball Thursday afternoon in Houston, leading the Red Sox to a much-needed, 5-1 win over the Astros.

"I just go out there and compete, man," Perez said. "Just pitch for contact. I know these guys swing a lot and they're aggressive at home plate. I'm just trying to throw quality pitches and get out of the inning quickly. I was throwing a lot of fastballs up, two-seamers down and away, changeups, I think I throw everything tonight and it was a fun game. I enjoyed it and we got the win."

The starter was simply dominant, pitching effectively to contact while cruising a series of economical innings. By the time bench coach Will Venable came out with the hook -- (Alex Cora had been ejected) -- Perez's pitch total was sitting at just 82.

"He’s been good the whole season," Cora said. "There are certain times we take him out early, but today he was on top of the game. He had a good fastball, a good breaking ball, a good changeup, throwing strikes. He was under control. He’s been solid. One thing we were talking about before the game, it feels like in this series, we lost three out of four, but we pitched well. Even Eduardo (Rodriguez) in the first game, it doesn’t look that way but it was a fly ball to left field, a few singles. Garrett (Richards) threw the ball well. (Nick) Pivetta did the same thing. And Martin finished it off. For everything we’ve been talking about them, how good they are, we, as far as our starting rotation we were toe to toe with them. He was amazing. He’s been amazing the whole season. We’re very happy where he’s at physically and stuff-wise."

The pitch mix that included 32 percent sinkers, 28 percent cutters, 23 percent changeups and 12 percent four-seamers, (with four changeups thrown in for good measure), was a perfect concoction.

It's a formula that has allowed for a 2.22 ERA over his last eight starts, going at least five innings in all but one.

Sure, hitters make contact against Perez. But when the do, there isn't much to show for it.

"He’s throwing strikes. He’s not nibbling too much," Cora noted. "He’s ahead in the count. He’s been using his fastball up and in and expanding down and away. We know who he is. There are certain days where we feel it’s a short outing, five innings. Others, we can let him go. Today dictated what we wanted to do with him. He was on top of them. He did an amazing job throwing strikes, using his cutter, sinker, fastballs up, changeup. We’re very pleased where he’s at. This guy, the last few years, he’s induced the opposition to weak contact. When he uses his pitches where he has to, this is what happens. He feels very comfortable where he’s at. He feels strong right now and that was amazing today."

"The whole time I told my agent that I want to be here again, because I tell this to you guys before, this is kind of like home for me," Perez said. "The way that I enjoy the game here and the way that I enjoy this level is totally different. I want to win, man. That's my goal. I come here to do my best for my team and for the organization, and that's my goal. The time I have the ball in my hands, I just believe in myself and trust my stuff and no matter what, I'm just going to go out there and compete and do my best for my teammates."