SEATTLE – What, don’t the Mariners read the newspaper?
Martin Perez made his 20th career start against Seattle on Friday, the most he’s faced any team, but it was the new Martin Perez. The one with the cutter that makes righthanded hitters lunge, the one with the changeup that makes lefties flinch. The one who keeps making news, apparently unnoticed by the Mariners, by turning his career around, not the one his opponents are comfortable facing.
“I changed everything,” Perez said, and now the Mariners know it, too: Baseball’s top home-run-hitting team scratched out just five hits, none of them out of the park, and handed Perez his sixth victory, 7-1 at T-Mobile Park.
The Twins’ fourth consecutive victory widened their lead over Cleveland in the AL Central to a season-high 5½ games, and Perez, now 6-1, is a big reason why.
“He’s made so many adjustments just since spring training. He looks like a different pitcher than what I’ve seen from him in the past,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the Twins’ lone lefthanded starter. “He can do so many things. He commands the ball very well, which allows him to kind of add these new tricks to his arsenal.”
Tricks that must have come as a surprise to the Mariners, right Martin?
“I think so,” Perez said after joining Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi as six-game winners, a spectacular start for the Twins’ rotation just 44 games into the season. “How I been pitching the last three years, I mean, [I] throw more strikes, and try to hit the glove. You see tonight, they [ask] the umpire for time out.”
The Twins’ own power-surge offense took a timeout, too, for the most part. But it didn’t matter, because it appears they don’t have to hit home runs to show off their explosiveness.
Ehire Adrianza connected on a long one, sure, to keep alive the Twins’ streak of 12 straight games with a home run, now just four short of the franchise record. But the real damage was done on a much smaller scale. The Twins peppered Seattle starter Marco Gonzales with four straight singles in the fourth inning, added three more one-baggers and a walk in the fifth, and waltzed to a much quieter win than the previous night’s 11-6 slugfest.
“It was still a good night at the plate,” Baldelli said. “I was happy with the way we not just swung the bats but approached the at-bats.”
Perez struck out seven batters in 6⅔ innings, and while his control occasionally wavered — he walked a season-high four — his ability to strand Mariners runners did only once. Six times the Mariners advanced runners into scoring position, and only once, on an Edwin Encarnacion single in the fifth, did Perez allow anyone to score.
“I change my plan when I go to the mound. A year before, I just throw two-team down and away, and a changeup,” said Perez, a former Ranger who also impressed Houston, another frequent AL West foe, with eight shutout innings early this month. “Now, I got my cutter in, then a fastball, and come back with a changeup. How I move the ball around the plate is good now. I trust 100 percent my cutter, any count, so I’m not scared to throw it, and that’s a big change this year.”
His own offense, meanwhile, kept pecking away at Gonzales, the first of three straight Seattle left-handers they will face this weekend. Adrianza’s blast off the top of the scoreboard in left field got the Twins on the board in the third inning, but it was a collective effort that produced their next five runs. Marwin Gonzalez and C.J. Cron led off the fourth inning with singles up the middle, and Willians Astudillo poked the ball away from the shift and into right field to load the bases. When Max Kepler followed with a ringing hit to center, Gonzalez scored, and Cron came home on Adrianza’s sacrifice fly.
An inning later, Jorge Polanco got a hit without swinging the bat: A pitch hit wood as he ducked away from it, and floated over first baseman Ryon Healy’s head. Gonzalez moved him up with another single and Cron drew a walk, loading the bases.
Then the Mariners’ defense, which has been noticeably terrible so far this series, cost Gonzales three runs. Astudillo hit a fly ball to medium-depth left field, and Polanco tagged up. The Twins’ runner got a slow start off the base and appeared to be running into an inning-ending out at the plate. But Domingo Santana’s throw one-hopped catcher Tom Murphy, who couldn’t prevent it from getting past him, and Polanco was safe.
Even better for the Twins, Gonzalez and Cron moved up a base on the error, Seattle’s 50th of the season — by far the most in the majors. (The White Sox are second with 37; the Twins have committed only 21). When Kepler singled again, both runners scored, and the Twins’ victory was all but sealed.
Minnesota added another run in the ninth against reliever Matt Festa, another run that could have been prevented with better defense. Adrianza singled again, and with two outs, Jonathan Schoop hit a fly ball to deep right-center. Mallex Smith made a diving catch, but allowed the ball to bounce free when he hit the ground, and Adrianza scored.