Hartman: Twins improve at driving in baserunners

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2014 - 11:12 PM

Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe high-fived after both scored on a two-out single by Kurt Suzuki during the Twins’ 5-4 loss at Kansas City on Saturday. The Twins entered the day ranked fourth in the major leagues in runs scored after ranking 25th last season.

Photo: JOHN SLEEZER • Kansas City Star,

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Twins All-Star closer Glen Perkins, who has three saves in four opportunities and currently has a streak of four scoreless and hitless innings, credits the Twins’ hitting and not the pitching for the much improved start for the squad this year.

That’s despite the fact that the Twins spent $86 million on four pitchers this offseason, giving Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million deal; Phil Hughes a three-year, $24 million deal; and Mike Pelfrey a two-year, $11 million deal. In addition, Kevin Correia is in the second year of a two-year, $10 million deal.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re hitting with runners in scoring position, and we didn’t do that last year,” Perkins said.

The Twins entered Saturday fourth in the majors in runs scored with 86, trailing only Colorado, the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox. Through 16 games last season the Twins had only 67 runs scored, and they finished the year 25th in the majors with 614.

“We didn’t get hits [last year]. We drew walks, but we didn’t get hits. We’re getting hits this year when we need them,” Perkins said. “A game like [Thursday night], eight walks in one inning, doesn’t hurt either.”

He was talking about the eighth inning in Game 2 of Thursday’s doubleheader against Toronto, when the Twins rallied with six runs on one hit in the eighth inning to win 9-5. Perkins said he had never seen anything like that before.

“I could have sworn that that would have been a major league record, but I guess the Senators walked 11 times one time, so they had us beat,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Twins won Game 1 of that doubleheader 7-0, winning largely thanks to a five-run inning against former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They were shut out 5-0 Friday at Kansas City and lost 5-4 Saturday, falling back below .500.

“I think as long as we keep hitting with runners in scoring position we’re going to score runs,” Perkins said. “We had guys on base last year, we just didn’t get them in. I hope we have a better pitching staff that’s going to keep us in some more games and give our hitters a chance. We’ve done it so far.”

The team didn’t hit well in spring training, as the Twins scored one run eight times and were shut out once.

“I think you have to take spring with a grain of salt, and the guys we have here are battling and playing well,” Perkins said. “We had some good pitching performances, and that helps, too. It has been fun. It has been fun to play meaningful baseball games.”

One meaningful thing the Twins did during spring training was sign Perkins to a contract extension. The former Gophers lefthander from Stillwater will be paid $4.025 million this season, $4.65 million in 2015, $6.3 million in 2016 and $6.5 million in 2017, with a $6.5 million team option for 2018.

Perkins, a former first-round draft pick in his eighth season with the Twins, was asked if it was a big adjustment going from a setup man to a closer.

“No, I think once I kind of started climbing that ladder from being a middle-inning guy to a later-inning guy it went pretty smoothly,” said Perkins, who also went 12-4 as a starter in 2008. “There’s no complaints. It has been pretty fun.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, and I think that’s fun. Being in there when the game is on the line and being the last guy, the guy that the team got a lead for and the pitching staff tries to get the ball to is a good spot to be.”

Big year for Love

Kevin Love wrapped up his best season as a pro with 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in the Timberwolves’ loss to Utah on Wednesday. Those numbers left Love with averages of 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.

To recognize how remarkable his all-around statistical output was, you have to go back to 1975-76, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo put up averages of 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. That was the last time it happened in the NBA.

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