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Perez in command, Rangers stay atop AL West

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- With each start Texas left-hander Martin Perez appears to take a step forward with regards to poise and preparation. His performance on Sunday might have been his most significant leap yet.

Perez recorded his first complete game to lead Texas to its 12th victory in 13 games, a 6-1 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Perez (5-3) surrendered four hits and two walks to help keep the Rangers (68-50) alone atop the American League West. He allowed just two baserunners into scoring position -- Carlos Corporan in the third inning and Brett Wallace in the fifth -- before Chris Carter ended his shutout bid with a two-out home run in the ninth.

Perez notched a career-high eight strikeouts during his 115-pitch effort. His fastball command was sublime, as was his confidence throughout.

"He had a great game," Rangers catcher Geovany Soto said of Perez. "He executed really good. His fastball command was there. His changeup was there. He had a lot of early outs in the third, fourth, fifth innings. I think he looks a little bit different. He has more conviction, more aggressiveness, more attack. I feel like he's doing that. Whenever he needs a strike leading off the inning or leading off an at-bat, he got a strike. He uses all his pitches real well and he used all his pitches well."

Over his last three starts, all Rangers victories, Perez has allowed four runs on 12 hits and eight walks with 19 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings.

Rangers manager Ron Washington paid Perez a mound visit during a tumultuous fifth inning. Perez rebounded and retired 11 of 12 batters before Carter saved the Astros (37-79) from their 11th shutout defeat.

"He told me, 'Don't try to do too much. Don't push your body to third base. Go into Geo. You can do it,'" Perez said. "That's what he told me. I just threw the pitch. That's important to me because he trusts me and everyone trusts me. I want to continue throwing the ball good."

Houston southpaw Dallas Keuchel (5-7) was nearly as effective, but was undermined by a pair of miscues committed by shortstop Jake Elmore.

Keuchel retired 13 consecutive batters to open his outing before Rangers right fielder Alex Rios reached on an infield single with one out in the fifth. Rios hit a slow roller to Elmore who double clutched prior to making the throw to first baseman Brett Wallace.

That mental miscue proved costly when Jeff Baker followed with a single that pushed the Rios into scoring position. Soto added an RBI double to straightaway center field that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

In the sixth, Elmore committed a throwing error that allowed Elvis Andrus to reach with one out. Three batters later, Rios delivered a run-scoring double to right field that scored Andrus for a 2-0 Rangers lead.

Keuchel was one strike away from an exceptional start, but he plunked Craig Gentry with a 1-2 pitch to load the bases with two outs in the ninth. Jurickson Profar followed with a two-run single and Leonys Martin's RBI single chased Keuchel and sullied his final line.

"I'd like to have the pitch back to Gentry," Keuchel said. "I thought if I didn't hit him, I'd have a good shot of getting him out.

Keuchel allowed six runs (five earned) on eight hits and one walk with eight strikeouts while tossing a career-high 115 pitches. The bottom falling out from beneath in the ninth was a result of team-wide failures.

"I told him, 'You pitched one heck of a game, hold your head high, you don't have anything to hang your head about because you battled this guy pitch-for-pitch,'" Astros manager Bo Porter said of Keuchel. "Defensively, we let him down."

NOTES: Despite pinch running in the eighth inning and serving as a defensive replacement Saturday night, Astros SS Jonathan Villar (left thumb) was held out of the starting lineup again on Sunday because Texas started the left-handed Perez. In 386 plate appearances with Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, Villar posted a .620 OPS against southpaws compared to an .853 OPS against right-handers. Texas will start RHP Yu Darvish on Monday and Villar will return to the lineup. ... Infielder Leury Garcia, the player to be named later in the trade that sent outfielder Alex Rios from the Chicago White Sox to the Rangers, cleared waivers on Sunday to officially complete the transaction.
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