Twins reliever Perkins taking game to next level

Glen Perkins insists he’s not trying to strike out every batter he faces. It only seems that way for the Minnesota Twins closer.

Since taking over as the team’s closer midway through last season, Perkins has been lights-out in the ninth inning. This year, the Twins left-hander is a perfect 6-for-6 in save situations. Over his last four outings, he’s struck out at least two batters an inning. In the first game against Miami in a double-header last week, Perkins struck out the side to earn his sixth save.

“We have great fielders, but any time you can avoid using any fielders or them putting the ball in play, I think that’s the best result,” Perkins said. “If you strike a guy out, he’s out. The ball’s not going to fall in. It’s not going to find a hole. I don’t want to throw a lot of pitches, but if I can strike the guy out on three or four pitches, that’s definitely my goal.”

It’s a small sample size, but in nine games this year, Perkins is averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings — easily a career high. Last season, which included his first stint as the Twins’ closer, Perkins fanned 10.0 batters per nine innings. He’s also posted a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 0.923 so far in 2013.

When it comes to statistics, it’s been well documented that Perkins is big into sabermetrics, which tends to delve deeper than the stats traditionally found in the box score. But he admits that sabermetrics numbers don’t help him prepare for facing opposing batters.

“That’s just not a tool for evaluating scouting reports or how I want to pitch guys,” Perkins said. “That’s just more of a hindsight thing, like this is how I’ve done or this is things that I could improve. Obviously I’d like to strike the guys out. I don’t want to walk them. And you don’t want to give up home runs ever. That’s really all there is to it. It’s avoiding fly balls and it’s avoiding walks.”

Perkins saved 16 games for the Twins last year after Matt Capps was sidelined with injury. This spring was Perkins’ first as the full-time closer.

Now that he’s a month into the 2013 season, Perkins says things aren’t much different than they were last season.

“I guess I kind of got broken in last year,” Perkins said. “For me, it’s just been a continuation of what I’ve done the last couple years. It’s just the ninth instead of the eighth or the seventh. It really hasn’t been any adjustment or anything like that. You’ve still got to get them out no matter when it is.”

Added Twins catcher Joe Mauer: “I think he’s just continuing where he left off. The season’s still early but we feel pretty good when we give him the ball in the ninth.”

Perkins and Mauer are both Minnesota natives and both represented the United States in this winter’s World Baseball Classic. But the current Twins teammates were also united on another team during their high school days. Perkins attended Stillwater High School while Mauer played at Cretin-Derham Hall. The two were roommates for a weekend during a Lions All-Star Game in Minnesota.

“Little did I know he was going to be our closer and I was going to be the catcher,” Mauer said.

As good as Perkins has been early for the Twins, he’s had a few bumps along the way through nine games. He gave up two runs on two walks and a hit in Sunday’s 7-2 win over Texas and needed 28 pitches to do so. The only other game he allowed runs in was yet another non-save situation when he gave up a pair of runs in a 16-5 loss to the Mets.

Perkins is admittedly not happy with his performance in those two games, although he’s still yet to give up a run in a save situation.

“The last thing I want to do in a game like (Saturday) is throw 28 pitches,” Perkins said. “Those games, I probably don’t focus as much on trying to strike guys out. I’d rather have a quick inning. I’d rather throw under 10 pitches if I can. So it’s frustrating when I go out there because if it comes up where I pitch now, I’m coming off 28 instead of 10. But I definitely try to get them out every time regardless.”

The velocity on Perkins’ fastball is down a bit early in the season, but that’s not unexpected given the colder temperatures. According to FanGraphs, his fastball is averaging 93.8 mph this season compared to 94.9 mph a year ago.

Perkins knows that his velocity will come with time.

“I think I’m going in the right direction,” he said. “I’ll get stronger as the season goes on and then as the season goes on further I’ll wear down a little bit. I’m not real happy with where my slider’s at, more than my fastball. There’s some room for improvement with my slider. I’m still working on that one.”

Even though Perkins is his own harshest critic, the Twins are glad to have him at the back end of the bullpen. After transitioning to that role in 2012, Perkins hasn’t seemed to skip a beat in 2013.

“He’s kind of found his niche, coming in for one inning,” Mauer said. “The last two seasons it’s been in the ninth. It’s been good. It’s been fun to see.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.