Glen Perkins recorded his first 1-2-3 inning in a month Friday night. Must have been quite a relief, right?
“It was the first time I’ve felt healthy in six weeks,” the once-and-future Twins closer said. “That was the relief.”
Yeah, for the Twins, too. Perkins pitched the seventh inning, Trevor May the eighth and Kevin Jepsen the ninth, all three held the Astros scoreless, and the Twins cashed in their three — count ’em, three — hits to claim a 3-0 victory over AL West-leading Houston at Target Field.
Eduardo Nunez filled in for Miguel Sano and, appropriately enough, smacked a home run; Eduardo Escobar continued his hot streak with a double; and the Twins took advantage of some brief wildness by Houston starter Scott Kazmir to eke out three runs. And when Kyle Gibson delivered that three-run lead to the bullpen, well, the Twins discovered something the Royals realized long ago — six-inning games are easier to win.
“If you look at playoff teams, it’s the bullpen that needs to lock down wins to get them there,” said Jepsen, who has turned into a workhorse with his new team and earned his fourth save in a week. “If you have the lead after the fifth or sixth innings, those are games you expect to win. We take a lot of pride in that.”
It’s a great weapon to have, as manager Paul Molitor well knows. Gibson put runners on base in five of the six innings he pitched in, the Twins offense didn’t do much — but the bullpen, with its All-Star closer restored to health, made sure it was enough.
“You hope that it is” becoming a trend, Molitor said. “Recent results speak to that. These guys have responded.”
Jepsen, especially. Friday was his shakiest outing — he loaded the bases on a walk, a sharp single and an infield hit — but the righthander, acquired at the nonwaiver trade deadline on July 31, retired All-Star Jose Altuve on a harmless fly ball to center, to lock down his ninth save of the season. His first three saves with the Twins had all been 1-2-3 innings.
“I kind of planned that, bring the winning run to the plate, yeah, [to face] the reigning batting champ — that’s what I want to do,” deadpanned the 31-year-old, who has not given up a run in 14 consecutive appearances after losing his first game with the Twins. “You try not to put yourself in those situations, but they can’t always go 1-2-3.”
Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen certainly had confidence in the experienced veteran; as Jepsen worked through a 31-pitch inning, Allen didn’t even visit the mound. “It wasn’t like I felt he was misfiring,” Molitor said. Allen “looked at me and just kind of gave me the sign: ‘Just let him go, he’s doing fine.’ ”
He was, and so was Perkins, perhaps the most heartening aspect of Friday’s victory — well, that and the fact that the Twins kept pace with the Rangers, who won 4-1 over Baltimore, to remain a half-game out of the final playoff spot.
Perkins had a painful neck and a sore back and had pitched only once in 10 days. He hadn’t retired the side in order since July 30. So Molitor said he wanted to make sure the All-Star lefthander is healthy again before entrusting him with the ninth inning.
In the seventh inning, he summoned the closer, Perkins’ first work that early since May 2, 2012. And he loved what he saw: a dozen pitches; two strikeouts on sliders that had their characteristic late movement restored; and a one-pitch pop-up by Jake Marisnick.
“That was the loosest my arm had been in two months,” Perkins said. “Having life on the fastball gives my slider a different look. … That’s the way I feel I should pitch.”