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Perez boosts rotation, guides Twins to series win

@dohyoungpark
August 25, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins needed one of their starting pitchers to step up at the end of a difficult homestand for the rotation. Jose Berrios couldn’t solve the Tigers as he allowed five runs on Friday. Kyle Gibson was also tagged for five runs, but he got plenty of run

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins needed one of their starting pitchers to step up at the end of a difficult homestand for the rotation.

Jose Berrios couldn’t solve the Tigers as he allowed five runs on Friday. Kyle Gibson was also tagged for five runs, but he got plenty of run support in the Twins’ win on Saturday night. As a whole, the rotation had given up 21 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings (a 6.44 ERA) during the first five games of the homestand against the White Sox and Tigers, a pair of non-contending American League Central foes.

On the last day before they departed for a 10-game road trip, Martin Perez answered the call.

Wearing the nickname “El de Las Matas” on his back for Players’ Weekend, as a tribute to the small, four-street village in Venezuela where he grew up, the left-handed Perez represented his hometown well by allowing two runs in six sharp innings in the Twins’ 7-4 victory over the Tigers at Target Field on Sunday. Minnesota took two of three games to win the series vs. Detroit.

Box score

“It was a feel-good type of day,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There were a lot of positives to point to. I don’t want to say we were in need of that, I think we’ve been playing fine. Obviously, we want to win a few more games on a homestand, but that’s going to happen. I thought today was a very nice way to end the homestand. We can hit the road and hopefully keep it going.”

All season, Perez has said that he’s at his best when he’s on the attack against opposing lineups, and though he has generated weak contact all season, he has often struggled with walks and being too fine around the strike zone.

That wasn't the case Sunday. Perez attacked the zone from the start, striking out a pair in the first inning and allowing only a pair of singles through four. He did not allow a Tigers batter to make hard contact (exit velocity of 95 mph or higher, per Statcast) against him until the fifth, when he was tagged for a pair of runs on two doubles and an RBI single.

“He was definitely attacking today,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “Really, really good job. Gave up a few hits on some offspeed pitches that we'd like back, but at the same time, the way he controlled the game at that point was pretty impressive.”

Perez returned for the sixth, and he completed his outing with a flourish, generating a weak lineout and a pair of groundouts to cap a 100-pitch effort in which he struck out five and issued only one walk.

Unsurprisingly, Perez relied heavily on his cutter, pounding the inside half of the plate with the pitch against right-handed hitters and throwing the pitch for 43 of his 100 offerings.

"Their guy did a really nice job on us today,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He carved us up inside. He had that cutter working on the inner half of the plate and kept us off balance, and that's pitching in effectively."

Though Perez had been working to his glove side with the cutter for most of the season, one key in helping him feel better with the pitch in his recent starts has been to use it on both halves of the plate, including as a “backdoor” pitch on the outer half to right-handed hitters, which has emerged as a trend in Perez’s pitch charts in his August starts.

Perez didn’t do that as often Sunday, but he used the pitch toward the outer half for three called strikes and a ball at various points in the third and fifth innings.

"I feel better when I use both sides of the plate with my cutter,” Perez said. “Sometimes, I think that I throw inside too much and they go for balls. I like to go outside and to have that feeling and to come back again inside and throw more for effect inside."

“It's something that kind of gets him back to normal,” Garver said. “Sometimes, his cutter will get a little too big and become slider-ish, and it doesn't have the same action and deception. When he goes to that side of the plate, it opens up more options for us as well.”

The effective outing continued a needed resurgence for the 28-year-old Perez, who posted a 7.00 ERA through his first five starts of the second half before rebounding with strong starts against the Brewers and Rangers in his previous two appearances. But Sunday’s game was the strongest of the three, as he had issued eight walks over the last two starts.

Home runs were plentiful for the Twins’ lineup throughout the series, and that was no different against the homer-prone Matthew Boyd on Sunday. C.J. Cron clubbed a three-run shot in the fourth inning, and Jonathan Schoop lined a two-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole in the sixth to provide plenty of run support for Perez.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.