Martin Perez goes for third straight shutout

Among the potential pitching highlights to watch for Tuesday night:

1. Jose Fernandez and Alex Wood in a rematch of last week's 1-0 game in which the two pitchers combined for 25 strikeouts and no walks.

2. Zack Greinke goes for his 21st consecutive start allowing two runs or fewer.

3. Jeff Samardzija (1.53 ERA) versus Alfredo Simon (1.30 ERA) in a battle of two guys off to strong starts.

4. Justin Verlander faces the White Sox and the red-hot Jose Abreu.

5. Martin Perez (1.42 ERA) goes for his third straight shutout, squaring off against Scott Kazmir and his 1.62 ERA.

So, yes, the odds suggest we'll see a dominant pitching performance or two somewhere Tuesday night. Anyway, I wanted to take a look at Perez, who will attempt to become the first pitcher since Cliff Lee in 2011 to spin three straight shutouts and only the second pitcher in Rangers history to do so (knuckleballer Charlie Hough did it in 1983). In fact, since the wild-card era began in 1995, here's the list of pitchers with three shutouts in a row:

Cliff Lee, Phillies, June 16-June 28, 2011 (27 IP, 10 H, 5 BB, 12 SO)

Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, Aug. 5-17, 2007 (27 IP, 14 H, 2 BB, 20 SO)

Roger Clemens, Blue Jays, Aug. 20-30, 1998 (27 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 31 SO)

Impressively, Perez has fired back-to-back three-hitters, against the White Sox (first in the American League in runs) and the A's (third in the AL in runs). While he's just 23, Perez's rise has long been predicted. Back in 2010, Keith Law ranked him No. 7 on his top 100 prospects list, writing:

Perez is already the best left-handed prospect in baseball even though he probably would still be finishing high school if he had been born in the United States. At this time last year, he was a projectable lefty with good command of an average fastball and a plus curveball with good depth, but his velocity ticked upward this past season to where he's now sitting 91-94 mph and flashes better at times. Perez's changeup also made huge strides this season, giving him two plus secondary pitches, something few prospects can match -- and Perez is already there before reaching his 19th birthday.

There were some scuffles along the way, including atrocious results at Double-A in 2011 and a 5.45 ERA in 38 innings with the Rangers in 2012. But Perez blossomed in 2013, going 10-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts with Texas and started the wild-card tiebreaker game against Tampa Bay.

It's that changeup that Keith mentioned back in 2010 that has become Perez's big weapon. In 2013, batters hit just .188/.226/.312 against it. In 2014, it's become an even more dominant pitch, with opponents hitting .077/.143/.115 against it. He throws the changeup about 15-20 times per game (actually down from the 22 per game he averaged last season), mostly to right-handed batters. Look at where he's spotted that pitch so far through five starts compared to last year:

Good luck hitting a changeup in that location. The curveball, a plus pitch for Perez as a teenager, has become less so, and he's thrown it only 45 times in five starts after throwing it about five times per game last season.

Is his improvement for real? He hasn't allowed a home run yet and he ranks 87th out of 109 qualified starters in strikeout rate. But those red flags are partially cancelled out by a ground ball rate that has been seventh best among starters. He pitches down in the zone, gets hitters to pound the ball into the ground and hasn't made many mistakes yet. It's a combination that's working. While he's due to give up a long ball and at least a couple of runs, let's see if he can stretch that scoreless innings streak to 35 with another shutout.