Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Glen Perkins set-up to be closer

For the first time since before the Joe Nathan era in Minnesota, the team will enter next season with a homegrown pitcher as the closer at the back-end of the bullpen. Glen Perkins exploded onto the scene in 2011 and he continued that success into 2012 by being a dominant relief man for the Twins. All of this came after he failed to be a starter and it looked like he might be out of the system for the Twins. Back in 2009, Perkins and his agent had the players association file a grievance against the Twins for a variety of reasons. He has come a long way from that point and he has put together stellar seasons in back-to-back years.

As I wrote about at the end of last week, the Twins ended their long, strange love affair with Matt Capps by declining his option for next season. For the Twins, this means there should be little doubt about who will be getting the majority of the save opportunities for the club. Perkins has posted an ERA of 2.52 since the beginning of 2011 and his WHIP is a very good 1.129 in those two campaigns. Unlike Capps, Perkins has shown the ability to strikeout batters on a regular basis with his SO/9 averaging 9.8 in the last two years and he set a career high in this department last season with 10 SO/9.

When Capps went down last season, Ron Gardenhire used an interesting approach for a few of the late inning situations for the club. Since Perkins is a left-handed pitcher, Gardenhire would sometimes turn to right-handed pitcher Jared Burton to be the man to close down the ninth inning. This was often done when most of the batters for the final frame were scheduled to be right-handed hitters. A few weeks of using a double-headed closer was enough for Gardenhire and Burton wouldn't record a save in the last couple months of the season. Perkins was the man at the end of the game and it seems that Gardenhire likes knowing which pitcher will be getting the final outs for his team.

Finding other relief options like Jared Burton has helped the Twins to solidify their bullpen in the last year. The team took a flyer on Joel Zumaya during last offseason but that risk didn't work out in favor of the club. There were still some other surprises from the relief core from Minnesota. Casey Fien emerged as a very reliable option by keeping runners off of the bases and keeping the ball in the park. Alex Burnett had the best season of his career and Brian Duensing did fine when he was used out of the bullpen and not as a starter. Anthony Swazak, like Duensing, fared much better as a relief pitcher versus being a starter. There seems to be a decent core of arms building around Perkins in the bullpen.

It has been a long journey for Perkins to get to this point. The Twins drafted him in the first round of the 2004 Draft and he would make his debut by the end of 2006. Injuries would force him to pitch a limited amount of innings in 2007 but he would pitch a career high in innings during the 2008 campaign. The 2009 and 2010 seasons would be his last as a starting pitcher and he struggled to keep his ERA anywhere near 5.00 in his time at the MLB and Triple-A level. It was time to try a different approach with Perkins so he was sent to the bullpen to try and save what was left of his career.

This decision turned out to be the right move for Perkins and the Twins as he made great strides in the last two seasons. The shift to the bullpen saw Perkins add more velocity to his fastball and this has made him tougher to hit as a pitcher. He struck out a career high 78 batters this season in 70.1 innings when his previous high had been 74 batters but that was in 151 innings on the mound. Perkins has reinvented himself as a relief pitcher and it seems like he continues to gain confidence on the mound with each late inning opportunity that he is given to pitch.

There have been plenty of things to be down about in regards to the Twins in the past two seasons but the emergence of Perkins as the closer of the present and the future is not one of them. He has offered a small glimmer of hope to fans in back-to-back terrible years. His road to the role of full time closer with the Twins had plenty of bumps along the way but the transformation from starting pitcher to set-up man and finally to closer seems like the perfect path for the former first round pick. He'll start next year as the closer for the Twins and fans hope the team can follow the path of Perkins by reinventing the franchise for the future success.

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