Perez makes case that he belongs in rotation

Twins lefty goes six solid innings in loss after struggling in 'pen

April 16th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- On Sunday morning, one day before his starting debut for the Twins, Martin Perez had expressed the utmost confidence that he could put his early season struggles out of the bullpen behind him and pitch deep into Monday’s game.

Perez did just that in a successful first start, scattering seven hits but allowing only one run in six innings against the Blue Jays. But Minnesota’s bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, as Teoscar Hernandez’s eighth-inning homer off pushed the Twins to a 5-3 defeat in the series opener at Target Field.

“It's not the same when you come from the bullpen,” Perez said. “I had a chance to calm down a couple times and start thinking about what I'm doing. I need to throw this ball, this pitch, and try to hit the glove. I think the defense and the offense were great today. They win, but we fight."

Perez's fastball touched 97 mph as he struck out five and walked two. The 28-year-old left-hander threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25 hitters he faced.

Perez had previously said that he was looking to restore some of the mechanical changes he made to his hips during his delivery, and he was pleased with his added velocity and his ability to locate his pitches.

"As you can see, I started throwing 97 the last two innings,” he said. “That's the key. When I use my hips, everything is right there and I can throw the pitch where I want, and I move the ball well.”

Perez also felt he had to be more aggressive with his fastballs when pitching in relief, but he was able to mix in more offspeed offerings on Monday, including 16 changeups among his 86 pitches.

"Yeah, I started using my changeup,” he said. “That's what I was doing before when I was with Texas. That's a big pitch for the hitters. Good combination, fastball and changeup. They can't recognize [it]. So I work on my plan, do my plan, do my best and try to eat innings for this team, and we have a good chance."

Though Minnesota signed Perez during the offseason to be a starter, he had to pitch out of the bullpen for the first two weeks of the season due to the aggressive distribution of off-days in the early schedule. He had allowed seven earned runs and issued nine walks over 8 1/3 innings in relief.

“I’m glad to finally get him out there starting a game and get him into a real routine, because he’s been all over the place because we’ve asked him to be all over the place at this point,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He hasn’t complained one bit, and he went out there and had a nice start tonight.”

Though Perez largely avoided damage on the scoreboard, Toronto's hitters were able to make solid contact against the southpaw. Of the 17 batted balls against Perez, nine were hit harder than 90 mph, with six recorded at 99 mph or greater.

Why go to Mejia?
With the Twins holding a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning, Baldelli elected not to use his core back-end relief options -- , , or -- and instead turned to the less proven and Mejia for outs late in a close game.

Though Harper pitched a clean seventh inning with a pair of strikeouts, Mejia allowed hits to the first four men he faced in the eighth, including the back-breaking homer to Hernandez. Mejia has now yielded eight earned runs in 7 2/3 innings this season.

“We were going to have to have the Mejias and the Harpers go out there and give us some quality innings if we were going to win the game today,” Baldelli said. “I'm going to call on those guys. Those are very capable Major League relievers that we're going to ask to do some things in some close ballgames, and obviously it didn't work out tonight.”

Baldelli felt that Mejia was making good pitches and said he liked some of the matchups for him, even against right-handed hitters. The 6-foot-3 left-hander actually went to 0-2 on three of the first four hitters but couldn’t find a way to finish them off. Hernandez fouled off three 0-2 offerings before his homer.

“I think he got right where he wanted to be as far as where he was in those at-bats, and just probably didn’t find a way to put the hitters away,” Baldelli said. “We can look into that and talk about that going forward.”

Even though Minnesota was coming off back-to-back off-days entering this homestand due to Thursday’s travel day and Friday’s snowed-out game, Rogers, Parker and Hildenberger had all pitched on both Saturday and Sunday against Detroit. May also pitched Sunday and had warmed up on Saturday.

Couple that with the fact that the Twins have now embarked on a stretch of 23 games in 24 days and Baldelli needed to reach deeper into his bullpen, even in a close game.

“We're going to need all of our guys to step up along the way, and I'm sure they will,” Baldelli said.

Baldelli ejected from first career game
Baldelli was ejected in the bottom of the eighth inning by home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook after arguing a strike-three call on . Estabrook had ruled Cron out on a swinging third strike after the ball appeared to hit both Cron’s fingers and his bat on a 2-2 pitch by reliever Daniel Hudson.

It was the first ejection of the first-year manager's career.

“There was just a disagreement that we probably were not going to get resolved while we were standing out there,” Baldelli said. “It was a difference of opinion. That was pretty much it. There probably wasn’t a ton to flip out about out there, but I wasn’t going to go back to the dugout until there was some kind of resolution, and that’s where the resolution kind of showed up.”

“That's just the kind of guy Rocco is,” Cron said. “He's going to have our backs. He's a great manager so far. I'm happy to be here playing for him. He had my back. I may have to buy him a little something to say thank you.”