FORT MYERS, FLA. – New Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki on Monday went to the bullpen on the opening day of training camp to get to know the pitching staff. One pitcher with a long memory was particularly eager to throw to him.
Closer Glen Perkins badly wanted to work with the new catcher for his first bullpen session of the season. After throwing to Suzuki, the two remained in the bullpen for several minutes to talk about situational pitching.
“The ball was coming out of his hand great,” Suzuki said. “I just want to keep that relationship going.”
If things work out this season, the two will be paired frequently to close out Twins victories. Perkins also will get to needle his former foe about the old days.
The Perkins-Suzuki relationship is an old adversarial one. Perkins, a starting pitcher for the Gophers, gave up a two-run homer to Suzuki, who starred at Cal State Fullerton, on March 13, 2004, at Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. The Gophers won the game 8-7, but Perkins got a no-decision. Suzuki’s Titans, however, knocked the Gophers out of the NCAA tournament later that season, including a victory over Perkins. The two were selected in the major league draft later that year, Perkins going to the Twins in the first round and Suzuki selected in the second round by Oakland.
Perkins, however, believes he owes Suzuki something.
“Payback will be easy now,” Perkins tweeted on Dec. 20, when the Twins signed Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million contract to take over for Joe Mauer behind the plate.
Asked on Monday if he has gotten Suzuki back yet, Perkins joked, “I will when he finds his jeans cut up.”
Suzuki countered that he struck out against Perkins as well.
“He got me back,” said Suzuki, who never has faced Perkins in the majors.
Suzuki might want to keep his clothes at a secure location at Hammond Stadium but keep his reliable glove with him at all times. Perkins wanted to see what kind of target Suzuki gives him behind the plate, and his first impression matched the scouting reports on the newest Twins catcher.
“I had seen the guy before,” Perkins said. “He receives the ball really well. With him being in the American League he knows the pitchers and the way I like to work, what I like to throw and when. I’m excited to throw to him and excited when he is back there.”
Suzuki is considered a solid defensive catcher. His pitchers have a career ERA of 3.88 with him behind the plate — although it’s worth noting Oakland has had quality pitching for most of his seven seasons with the Athletics. He is considered to have an average arm, but opponents were successful on 90 percent of attempted steals during his 79 games with Washington before he was traded back to the A’s in August. He has thrown out 26 percent of base stealers in his career and expects to perform much closer to his career mark.
Suzuki is expected to be the starter, but if prospect Josmil Pinto makes the team, the two catchers could share the job. Suzuki gives them flexibility for whatever role they determine is best for Pinto.
“If you play well and you perform, you are going to play more,” Suzuki said. “That’s the way it goes. I just want to go out there and perform.”
And if he ends up replacing a shredded pair of jeans because of Perkins, so be it.
“That’s all right,” Suzuki said. “He’s my closer now.”