FORT MYERS, FLA. – Martin Perez has never been known as a strikeout pitcher, so his spike in velocity during exhibition games could be a good sign for him.
The lefthander, touching 96 miles per hour several times on Sunday, struck out four batters over 5⅔ innings as the Twins lost 5-3 to the Yankees. He used his fastball to get ahead in the count but was unable to finish off hitters.
But knowing he has a bigger fastball — he has averaged 92.6 mph so far in his career — could be a game changer for him as he enters his first season with the Twins.
“It’s not the same as when you throw 92, 93, when you can 95, 97,” he said. “My goal is to throw more strikes and throw more innings during the season.”
Perez threw five scoreless innings against a Yankees lineup with few familiar names. He struggled in the fifth but nearly got out of a bases-loaded situation when he got Greg Bird to ground out, allowing one run to score. He was removed after walking Austin Romine, then reliever Trevor May gave up a bases-clearing double to Clint Frazier, with all three runs charged to Perez.
But striking out hitters isn’t everything to Perez, who has never fanned more than 6.1 batters per nine innings in a season. He retired 10 consecutive Yankees at one point during his outing, with seven consecutive outs coming on ground balls.
Although he has an improved fastball, he’s going to sink and cut his fastball for more movement. If that leads to more ground balls and not more strikeouts, so be it.
“That’s my new name, machine double play,” said Perez, who will open the season in the bullpen until he’s needed in the rotation in mid-April. “I don’t want to pitch long innings and get tired. Just come back and throw strikes and go quick.”
Willians Astudillo was 2-for-4 for the Twins. He represented the winning run in the ninth when batted with two outs and two men on but flied out to the warning track in left to end the game.