By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
For the better part of the last two decades, the Twins had three closers: Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and Joe Nathan, the middle of whom was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame last Friday.
But for the three seasons preceding 2013, the closer position was up for grabs. Joe Nathan had elbow surgery and missed 2010. His replacement, Matt Capps, was ineffective for most of his time in Minnesota. The Twins even tried closer-by-committee for a spell. Nothing seemed to fill that ninth inning void.
Until Glen Perkins, that is.
The lefty from Stillwater, MN is settling into a groove in his first year as closer. In the month of June, Perkins is eight for eight in save opportunities with a measly one baserunner allowed. His average pitches per inning? Eleven.
“I think I’m just getting ahead, I mean, getting ahead in the count,” said Perkins. “When they’re putting the ball in play, they’re hitting it at guys. A little luck, I’m sure, is involved.”
“That’s why I try to strike guys out. If you give up some hits, if you get guys on base, you can fall back on a strikeout.”
Perkins holds the top WHIP (0.76) and K/9 (13.01) in what has been a fairly strong Twins’ bullpen. Though his save total is a ways down the major-league leaderboard due to lack of opportunities, his other pitching metrics rank in the top 10—not just for closers—but for all relievers in baseball.
League-wide as of June 19, Perkins was ranked lucky number seven in WHIP, K/9, and opponent’s average (.160). I guess the left-hander wasn’t joking when he said there was a little luck involved.
“He's been unbelievable,” said starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey. “That's what we all expect out of him or have come to expect out of him, so when he comes in at the end, in everybody's head the game's over.”
Perkins has only slipped up twice this season. On May 21, he gave up a two-out home run to the Braves’ Evan Gattis that tied the game. A week later, he surrendered a run in the ninth inning to Milwaukee, but minimized the damage, allowing the Twins to grind out a 14-inning win. Perkins has two blown saves, but has suffered zero losses on the season.
His manager trusts him completely.
“He saves the pitching coach whatever hair he has left,” said Ron Gardenhire. “When you go out there and throw the ball over the plate and get them out, we have a lot of confidence with Perk. He’s throwing the ball very well.”
One would think being a closer is stressful, but for Perkins, who spent the first six-plus years of his Twins’ career floating from role to role, the stability of knowing his job every game is relaxing.
Said Perkins, “If you don’t have to hold your breath for three innings thinking you might pitch at any point… you can prepare yourself before you go in. It’s a lot harder when you pitch earlier in the games to keep yourself ready.”
Perkins worked out of the bullpen in his first two years as a Twin. In 2008, the team moved him to the starting rotation where the former Golden Gopher won 18 games in two seasons. Perkins then transitioned back to the bullpen in 2010. He pitched as a middle and late reliever for most of the next three seasons.
When struggling closer Matt Capps went to the disabled list in mid-2012, Perkins took the reins. After a few early hiccups, the lefty settled in to record 12 consecutive saves from July 20 to Sept. 28, effectively locking up his role for 2013.
Utility catcher Ryan Doumit had the task of catching Perkins in Minnesota’s 7-5 win over Chicago on Tuesday. Doumit is glad his job is simply to catch Perkins’ 95 mph fastball and not to swing at it.
“The guy’s tough to catch, and I know what’s coming,” said Doumit, “so I couldn’t imagine being in there not knowing what’s coming and trying to hit it.”
“He’s pretty tough. He’s one of the best. He comes in there, and you see some of the swings the guys put on him. That indicates him being pretty nasty.”
As Perkins continues his first full year at the ninth-inning helm, his identity continues to be shaped. It hasn’t reached Aguilera, Guardado, or Nathan status yet, but there’s plenty of time for that. Perkins is signed through at least 2015.
For now, he’s just the hometown guy who is a one-two-three-inning machine.