DETROIT — On the last day of Spring Training, veteran starter Martín Pérez pulled aside Rangers prospect Ezequiel Duran for a chat. In Duran, Pérez saw the talent, the poise and the willingness to work hard every day that Pérez himself possessed as a phenom some 11 years ago and wanted to nurture it in the youngster any way he could.
“I just told him, ‘Hey, don’t change. Stay humble and keep doing what you’ve been doing,’” Pérez recalled. “’When they give you the chance, it’s going to be the same game. We’re not from another world. Just do your thing.’”
Duran took that message from the Rangers’ ace to heart and has made quite a splash lately “doing his thing” since his June 4 MLB debut.
The red-hot rookie padded his steadily growing resume on Thursday night, delivering a bases-clearing, two-out triple in the top of the ninth that left the Tigers stunned and handed Texas a 3-1 win at Comerica Park.
Texas had mustered just three hits in the game at that point, but filled the bags against closer Gregory Soto when Corey Seager and Nathaniel Lowe drew walks and Kole Calhoun was hit by a pitch.
Duran swung and missed at a 98.4 mph four-seamer to open the at-bat before pegging a similar offering past diving first baseman Spencer Torkelson and into the right-field corner.
“I was ready for anything [Soto] threw,” Duran said through interpreter Raul Cardenas. “I work really hard. I work hard in the cages. I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time, so I am doing everything I possibly can to come out and compete every single time.”
The Rangers’ No. 4-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline is 15-for-47 in 12 games at the big league level after compiling a slash line of.317/.365/.574 with Double-A Frisco this season.
“He’s got ice in his veins; I don’t know how else to say it,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said with a chuckle. “I mean, this kid takes a rip at the first pitch, it’s a high fastball. Obviously, Soto is really good, especially if the ball’s up, it’s 100 mph.
“It’s just his ability to go up there and have no fear.”
The focus and confidence earned the Rangers their 15th come-from-behind victory this season and Duran a place in Texas’ history books as the first in franchise history to hit a ninth-inning, two-out, go-ahead triple for his first career triple.
But he might not have gotten there if Pérez hadn’t held down the fort with another sparkling Pérez-type outing. The lefty locked horns with Detroit rookie Beau Brieske for seven innings, each throwing shutout ball, until the Tigers caught Pérez for a single, a ground-rule double and a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Pérez had five strikeouts Thursday, all of them looking, and has now recorded an MLB-best 34 on the season.
“Just maybe one mistake to [Javier] Báez, but outside of that, not much hit hard,” Woodward said. “… Martín was spectacular again.”
The sac fly was the only run Pérez allowed, but with the Rangers generating just three singles before Duran’s decisive knock, it stood to be enough to sink the ship until the ninth inning arrived.
Thankfully, Duran was more than eager to pay back Pérez for taking the time with him this spring.
“I told him my experience and how everything was when I was that age,” Pérez said. “When you’re so young, you get excited every time, and you can’t control your emotions. One thing he does really good is he can control his emotions.
“He believes in his talent, and when he goes up there, he has a plan. He’s just trying to hit the ball every time, and that’s what we need.”
The Rangers have a real opportunity to seize control and go on a bit of a run as they round out June with 10 games against a trio of slumping sub-.500 squads and two contests against the Phillies, who were 32-31 entering play Thursday. As such — and perhaps especially against these types of teams — Woodward cautioned that the Rangers need to “keep our foot on the gas.”
Games against struggling squads don’t necessarily translate into “gimme” wins; if anything, Woodward said, they might provide a bit wider margin for error. That, also, is not to be taken for granted.
“It’s a good opportunity for us, the next two weeks,” Woodward said, “ … but shame on us if we don’t take advantage of it and we let off the gas a little bit.”