MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Terry Ryan stepped to the podium for a preseason address to the local media and looked across the room at Glen Perkins seated at one of the tables.
The Minnesota Twins left-hander was in attendance one day after receiving an award from the Baseball Writers Association of America as the player who best cooperated with the media and represented the team publicly over the previous season. Ryan, the Twins GM, laid it all out there in the blunt and accurate fashion that has become his calling card.
“He has turned his career around. He’s turned his life around and I think that was indicative in getting that award,” Ryan said. “I compliment you. I didn’t think this was going to turn out three years ago when he was in New Britain and Rochester. I wasn’t sure that he was going to be a member of this organization, much less a winner of the Good Guy award.”
Three years ago, Perkins was in the organization’s doghouse over a grievance he filed with the union for being assigned to Triple-A following arm injury. The dispute was later settled, but hurt feelings on both sides lingered.
Then things started to turn around in a hurry. Once he was healthy, the former first-round draft pick quickly started to assert himself as a top-flight reliever on the Twins’ shaky pitching staff. His velocity increased and he earned his way on the big league roster by giving the Twins an overpowering lefty in the eighth inning.
A new four-year contract came before last season, a year in which Perkins eventually took over the closer role from Matt Capps. He finished the season 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA and 16 saves. Almost as impressive, the head-strong native of Stillwater, Minn., took on a prominent role in the clubhouse as a veteran leader and team spokesman.
Now, as Twins pitchers and catchers prepare to report for their first workout of spring training on Wednesday, Perkins is one of the few proven commodities on a pitching staff with all sorts of questions.
“It happened really fast,” Perkins said at the team’s annual fan festival late last month. “I went from being a young guy to being one of the old guys really fast. That’s good. I’ve gotten plenty of chances here, so I’m glad I made good on the chances they gave me. There’s a lot of goals that I have, that we have as a team, that we’ll start answering in April.”
When the pitchers and catchers report, the group will be looking for some direction after the beleaguered starting rotation was primarily to blame for the team’s last-place finish in the AL Central last season. Somewhat surprisingly to some observers, Perkins will be one of the veterans counted on to provide it. He’ll be representing the USA in the World Baseball Classic and counted on by the Twins to keep the back end of the bullpen locked down again this season.
“He’s found his niche. It’s really nice to see,” catcher Joe Mauer said. “He’s got the right mentality for a closer. He’s a guy who has great stuff, for one. But he also has the ability where, if he gives up a couple runs, the next day he’ll quickly forget that. That’s what good closers do.
“They forget what happened yesterday, good or bad. To have him and then sign (Jared) Burton, that’s a pretty nice back of the bullpen,” Mauer said. “Last year our bullpen was strong, but we’ve got to get our starters to go deeper into games and try not to tax them like we did last year.”
With Perkins and setup man Jared Burton on the back end, the Twins think they have the right combination to shut down opposing offenses late in games. The key, of course, will be getting them the ball with a lead to protect.
Last year’s starting rotation was a disaster, so the Twins made wholesale changes. Only Scott Diamond returns with a spot assured, and the team is bringing a whopping 34 pitchers to spring training this season.
“Not only is he a talented pitcher, but he is also the kind of guy who is accountable and wants to lead and he has done that,” Ryan said of Perkins.
Even though he took over the closer duties last season, this will be his first full year in that high-profile role. Just like the hard times that preceded his climb back into the team’s good graces, Perkins takes it all in with a confident shrug.
“Preparation’s the same. It’s still bullpen reliever, 60 to 70 appearances, whatever it might be,” he said. “I’ve been preparing the same. It’ll be different when I pitch. But I kind of did it the second half of the season last year, so I’m not too worried about it.”
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