MINNEAPOLIS -- Throwing off a new side of the pitching rubber for the second straight start, Martin Pérez showed flashes of effectiveness in his outing against the Nationals on Wednesday night.
But even as Perez navigated his new look, old habits flared up in the three walks that he issued. It’s tough to place the sole blame on Perez for the pair of grounders through the infield for a pair of RBI singles and a fly ball that Eddie Rosario couldn’t track down in right field, but the free passes did open up the opportunities for Washington to plate five runs in the Twins’ 6-2 loss at Target Field.
“With the help of some plays behind him, I think we could have been in a spot where maybe he's given up one run -- maybe no runs -- but probably a run or two or something like that along those,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I thought he threw the ball fine. Maybe not as well as he had the last start or two, but still I thought plenty good enough to win a game.”
Though Perez’s pitching line wasn’t very clean -- five runs on six hits in five innings -- the left-hander’s outing might have been more effective had it not been for a three-play sequence in the third inning highlighted by a defensive misplay.
Perez issued a two-out walk to Juan Soto before he got what might have been an inning-ending fly ball to the right-field warning track from Howie Kendrick, but the ball fell just beyond Rosario’s outstretched glove for an RBI double on a ball that had an expected batting average of .370, according to Statcast. Rosario appeared to misjudge his route to the ball and saw the line drive sail behind him.
“I think Eddie probably makes that play the vast majority of the time,” Baldelli said. “Probably misjudged just how hard the ball was hit and ultimately didn’t make it. The ball is going to come back a little bit on him, back towards him. Again, I'm going to bet on Eddie making that play the vast majority of the time.”
Two pitches later, Ryan Zimmerman drove a two-run homer into the left-field seats to pad a 5-0 Washington lead.
“I set my mind to hold the game right here,” Perez said. “We've just got to score runs late in the game, and we have a good team. We have powerful guys. I was just trying to stay focused and throw a lot of strikes.”
Rosario was playing away from his natural left-field position for the second straight game in another difficult side-effect of the Twins’ mounting injuries in the outfield that have kept Marwin Gonzalez, Max Kepler and Jake Cave out of action during this series. Baldelli said after the game that Rosario was playing right field in order to keep rookie Luis Arraez, who is still learning the outfield, from needing to adjust to both left field and right field at the Major League level.
One start after allowing only two hits and one run in six efficient innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Perez had also been hit early by the Nationals in the first inning on Wednesday. A one-out double by Adam Eaton was followed by a walk to Anthony Rendon, and Soto singled under the glove of Jorge Polanco before Zimmerman pushed a weak grounder through the infield for a pair of RBI hits.
“I threw a changeup down and away, and then he hit the ball like 2 miles an hour, and we can’t catch the ball,” Perez said. “You can’t control the ball after you throw the ball. Like I said, I felt that I pitch my game, and it’s one of those games where you don’t score runs and we can’t make some plays.”
Polanco's two-run home run in the third off Stephen Strasburg accounted for the Twins' scoring.
Perez had been solid in four of his previous five starts entering the game, and he attributed some of the success in his last two outings to shifting from the third-base side of the pitching rubber to the first-base side, which he suggested to his coaches in an effort to better use his cutter, which had been moving too far inside to right-handed hitters.
Now, he feels that his cutter has better angle when he’s using it inside to righties -- as he has done for most of the season -- and backdoors more effectively when he uses it to his arm side, as it starts off the plate before swerving into the strike zone.
“I just like to watch my videos and try things,” Perez said. “If you don't try, you're not going to feel anything. It's not a big deal to try things. When I try things with my delivery, it works for me, and I stay there. I feel comfortable.”
Especially considering that improvement, neither Perez nor Baldelli felt that Wednesday’s results were indicative of his execution. And it will be particularly important for the left-hander to stay the course in light of Michael Pineda’s season-ending suspension that ended the big right-hander’s season earlier this week, all but eliminating the margin for error in Minnesota’s inconsistent starting rotation. After the Indians beat the Angels later Wednesday night, the Twins saw their lead in the American League Central trimmed to four games, with 17 to play.
“We have to do our jobs,” Perez said. “[Pineda] did a lot of things for us this season, and he's a great human, a good person and a good teammate. I mean, we have to pick him up and just go out there and do what he's been doing.”