ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are getting smoked by the No. 9 hitters in lineups this season, which goes against the trend that they're supposed to be the easiest out in baseball.
Opposing No. 9 hitters are batting .320 off Rangers' pitching with a .393 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage. They have two home runs and 10 RBIs. That leads the American League in all categories.
Mariners catcher Mike Zunino is 4-for-12 with a home run and three RBIs as No. 9 hitter in the first three games of the seres. Zunino wasn't in the lineup for Thursday's day game -- John Buck got the start for Seattle -- so it's to be determined if the trend will continue.
"Whatever," said starter Robert Ross Jr., who is coming off a start in which he threw eight scoreless innings. "It's funny. It's hilarious. There's a stat for everything. That's one of those things that happens. Obviously it can change in a second. The nine-hole guy is the guy you want to get. Sometimes you don't."
Rangers historians will note that shortstop Kevin Elster had 24 home runs and 99 RBIs as the team's No. 9 hitter in 1996. That was the Rangers' first season to make the playoffs.
Rangers hoping for early return of Soto, Profar
ARLINGTON -- Geovany Soto is targeting a July return from right knee surgery for a torn meniscus, but general manager Jon Daniels is hopeful the Rangers' starting catcher will be back in June.
"We're hoping to get [Jurickson] Profar and Soto back in June," Daniels said.
Profar, the Rangers' starting second baseman, is out with a right shoulder injury. Soto is still wearing a knee brace on his right knee and will have to wear it until mid-May. That means Soto can't do any baseball activities until then, which has him less than optimistic about a June return. The Rangers are going with a platoon of Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia.
"Basically, I'm just being patient," Soto said. "Mentally, it's tough. You come to the park and cheer on your teammates, but it's tough because I can't be out there helping them win."
The Rangers aren't going to push another injured player, left-handed starter Matt Harrison, who could make two or three more starts on a rehab assignment. Harrison, who started the season on the disabled list, lasted only 3 1/3 innings in a start Monday for Double-A Frisco.
Harrison, who had two back surgeries last year, is hoping to come off the 15-day disabled list after his next start on Saturday for Double-A Frisco. He is expected to throw 95 pitches.
"I have to get more than 3 1/3 innings," Harrison said. "I know I'm close."
Harrison has had to deal with two rainouts and cold weather during his rehab assignment. The Rangers may have time to get Harrison completely healthy with the strong start of Robert Ross Jr.
"There's not a set deadline," Daniels said. "I'm expecting him to make two more starts."
Perez impresses, makes strides on mound
ARLINGTON -- Martin Perez will make the 30th start of his Major League career on Friday against the White Sox.
That's just about one full big league season worth of starts -- Perez made six in 2012 and 20 more in 2013 as he won the Rangers' Rookie of the Year Award.
The Rangers are seeing improvement in Perez everywhere, and it's shown up in his first three starts this season -- Perez is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He's racked up nine double-play balls in his last two starts.
"His demeanor. The way he continues to attack hitters," manager Ron Washington said. "The adjustments he makes throughout innings. Those are the keys to success for a pitcher, besides the fact that he has good stuff."
Perez's experience drawn off of last year -- he started the Wild Card Game against Tampa Bay -- has helped him. The Rangers are 15-8 in Perez's start since the start of the 2013 season.
"He's in familiar territory now because he's had some success," Washington said. "He does a good job of learning how to study. And more than the study part of it, he's doing a good job of applying it. That's the one thing that sometimes is difficult, is applying it. He's applying it. That's the sign of maturity right there.
"He's learning how to do it pitch by pitch, inning by inning and game by game. That must continue."
Washington makes light of outfield mishap
ARLINGTON -- Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo had a fly ball drop between them in left-center field in the fourth inning of Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Seattle.
Television replays showed that Martin was clearly taking charge in center field and calling off Choo, but the outfielders bumped into each other. The ball deflected off Martin's glove, and Mariners catcher Mike Zunino was awarded a hit. Manager Ron Washington joked that it was a case of voice inflection on the part of Martin, who has high-pitched vocals.
"We're trying to work with Leonys on getting some bass in his voice," manager Ron Washington joked Thursday morning. "Then Choo would have heard him. It's just communication, that's all.
"[Leonys] said he was calling it the whole way, but he was at a tenor voice and it was mixing in with the crowd," Washington said. "We've got a speech coach we're bringing in to help him get some bass in his voice."
Martin ended up being the hero of the game for the Rangers with a bloop single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Texas a 3-2 walk-off win over the Mariners.
• Yu Darvish had an issue with a bleeding right thumb cut by his index finger nail for the second consecutive game on Wednesday, but Washington said it's not an issue.
• Left-hander Neal Cotts wasn't available Wednesday night after throwing 14 pitches the night before, allowing a hit in an inning. Washington said it was a club decision not to use Cotts and that there is no injury. Cotts has appeared in seven of the Rangers' 15 games with two blown saves.
• Left-handed reliever Pedro Figueroa had his best outing as a Ranger, needing 13 pitches to cruise through the ninth inning and eventually get his first career win after Martin's walk-off hit.
"He finally started attacking," Washington said. "He threw to contact last night. With that, he sees it's not that tough to do. … Sometimes subconsciously, not knowing it, he tries to take stuff off of his velocity to throw strikes, and I don't want him to do that. I want him to let it go."
Todd Willis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.