KANSAS CITY, MO. – Josh Willingham got a great scouting report Tuesday on what to expect if he faces Twins closer Glen Perkins during this series. And he’s pretty sure it’s reliable. It came from Perkins.
“I saw him in the dugout today, and I told him, ‘You’ll probably get a fastball or two, but the rest are going to be sliders. I just hope I hang one bad enough for you to swing and miss,’” Perkins said. “He knows all my secrets.”
Maybe so, but it doesn’t look as if the Twins’ former cleanup hitter needs any inside information these days. In two weeks since being dealt to the Royals, Willingham has fit right in with, batting .306 with two home runs, a .390 on-base percentage and a .583 slugging percentage.
“I’m swinging it pretty well right now,” Willingham said. “I was feeling pretty good” when he was traded Aug. 11.
Completely healthy once more — his 2014 season was largely spoiled by a broken bone in his wrist that he suffered during the season’s first week — Willingham said he feels “energized” by the Royals’ winning ways. His lone experience with a pennant race came in 2008, when his then-Florida Marlins finished 7½ games behind the Phillies, and six games out of a wild-card spot. So these two weeks, and the month still to come, have reminded him how enjoyable baseball is when the games are important.
“Yeah, it’s fun. The games — I don’t want to say the games mean more, because you always play to win, but there’s a little bit of juice, a little extra incentive. It’s fun to be a part of,” the 35-year-old designated hitter said. “I might play 10 more years. I might play till I’m 45.”
Well, nobody ever thought of him as a latter-day Julio Franco, but OK. That must mean he’s planning to play again in 2015, though some Twins teammates suspected he was considering walking away once his three-year contract expires at season’s end.
“I haven’t even thought about it, actually, but I’d imagine so,” Willingham said. “That’s still a long way off.”
He’s been looking forward to Tuesday for awhile, because of who was coming to town. Not the Twins — his family members, who packed up his house in Minneapolis during the Royals’ visit to Target Field a week earlier, and moved everything back to Florence, Ala. His three sons, ages 7, 4 and 2, were due in town to check out the new team and stadium, and Willingham said they will play a part in his decision about playing on next year.
“It’s part of baseball, to be away from the kids, especially when they get old enough to go to school. Then you’re away from them until school gets out in May,” he said. “But we’re together a lot after that, and they enjoy what I do. They like the baseball part of it. But that all gets decided after the season.”
Until then, he’ll focus on hitting in the clutch; Willingham is batting .320 with a runner on third base this season, part of the reason the Royals wanted him. It might mean he’ll face Perkins with the game on the line.
“He knows what I throw, and I know what he’s looking for,” said Perkins, who won a 10-pitch battle in Minneapolis last week, striking out his former teammate.
Added Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, “We know where his hit zone is, I can tell you that. We know what area code to keep the ball away from. Whether we can do that remains to be seen.”