Left-hander Martin Perez was making a strong bid, at least early in camp, to fall off the Texas Rangers' prospect list.
And into the rotation.
Perez, 21, has been the Rangers' top pitching prospect for the past three years, and he entered 2013 ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect in the organization. He and right-hander Justin Grimm, left-hander Robbie Ross and a couple of non-roster veterans are competing for the fifth rotation spot this spring.
Perez asserted himself early. In a nine-pitch inning during an intrasquad game, all nine pitches were strikes. On Feb. 25, he made his first exhibition appearance and retired the six batters he faced on 27 total pitches. He struck out two, getting Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki looking at a fastball and Josh Rutledge chasing a slider in the dirt.
"He has looked like a very mature kid this spring," manager Ron Washington said. "He has taken the ball and run with it."
The key to Perez's bid is his poise. Keeping things together when he's not at his best has been a problem, and part of why he's spent much of the past two seasons at Triple-A Round Rock.
In his spring debut, Perez showed positive signs about the poise being there. He fell behind the first hitter he faced, Eric Young Jr., 3-and-1 on a couple of high fastballs, but he battled back into the count and retired the hitter. He fell behind the second hitter, too, but also rallied. Perez was dominant over the final four hitters he faced.
"I was trying to throw the ball too hard, I think," Perez said. "After those first few pitches, I realized everything was up and why. If you want to pitch in the big leagues, you have to make adjustments. I thought I made them quickly."
Following Perez to the mound, Grimm struggled in the first inning of his spring debut. He could not get pitches down, and he allowed four hits and three runs. He recovered well enough to pitch around a two-out walk in his second inning of work. Grimm doesn't have the "stuff" of Perez, but he is supposed to have better poise.