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Perrotto: Martin Perez Goes From Follower to New-School Leader

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin Perez

BRADENTON, Fla. – Derek Shelton has some perspective on Martin Perez.

Shelton was the Minnesota Twins bench coach in 2019 before becoming the Pittsburgh Pirates manager the following season. One of the starting pitchers on the ’19 Twins was Perez.

The two are reunited with the Pirates, who signed the left-hander to a one-year, $8-million contract on Jan. 5 as a free agent. The difference between the 32-year-old Perez and the 27-year-old version is striking to Shelton as the Pirates pitchers and catchers go through spring training workouts at Pirate City.

“We have meetings with the players, and I was with Martin in 2019 in Minnesota and listening to him talk how much he’s matured and taken the role of being that veteran guy, I’m excited to get him,” Shelton said. “This guy has grown into a solid pitcher and a solid leader in the clubhouse, which is really important for us.”

Perez has accomplished quite a bit in his 12-year career. He’s finished in double digits in wins six times, been selected to an All-Star Game and won a World Series for the first time last season with the Texas Rangers.

Those dozen seasons have allowed Perez to gain a lot of knowledge.

Now, he feels it is time to pass it along with the Pirates’ young pitchers, though in a different way than many veteran players. Perez might be a veteran, but he is not old school.

“I just want them to feel good,” Perez said. “I’m not going to bring (anything) from the old school. I didn’t sign here to be on top of the guys. You just have to come early or any time they want to come and prepare and play hard. Go out there and compete and enjoy the game. That’s what I can say to them because I don’t like to tell them, ‘This is a rule. I want you guys to do this.’ No. Not a big fan of that. I just want them to enjoy the game and enjoy the time in the big leagues.

“I’m not coming here to just do my job on the mound. I come here to try and help my teammates, to let them know how good it is to win a World Series. I just try to bring that mentality to these guys and try to make them better people and better players, to make sure they know how to compete to get to that point.”

While providing leadership is good, the Pirates also want Perez to be a large part of a starting rotation in which right-hander Mitch Keller and lefty Marco Gonzales are the only sure things.

Perez had a stellar 10-4 record for the Rangers last season, but his ERA was 4.45. He was dropped from the rotation at the end of July and tagged for four runs in 1.1 innings in his lone appearance in the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

However, Perez was selected for the All-Star Game in 2022 when he went 12-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 32 starts for the Rangers.

“I know last year was a weird year for me, but it’s a new year,” Perez said. “We have new goals. Personally, I want to be ready to go out there and throw 32-33 starts. I want to pitch every five days and help the team to win. I have the same mentality, just a different approach. It’s a different organization, but it’s not going to be hard for me to be ready for what they want or what they’re looking for out of me.”

Perez had to take a major pay cut. His salary was $19.65 million last season after he accepted a qualifying offer from the Rangers rather than go to free agency.

However, Perez is happy to be reunited with Shelton and Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin, who was the Rangers’ assistant pitching coach before coming to Pittsburgh.

“Believe me, if I don’t feel good somewhere, I’m not going to be there because money is not everything,” Perez said. “To be here, with this type of group, is an honor for me because I know we can have a good team. I just want to help.”

Perez might even sing the national anthem before a game at PNC Park. He performed the anthem of his native Venezuela before a World Baseball Classic game last spring.

“If I can, yes. Why not?” Perez said. “Nothing is impossible.”

That is the attitude Perez brings to his first spring training with the Pirates. After all, he used Pirates and World Series in the same sentence.

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