TORONTO – Martin Perez, a year ago, couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t stay in Texas’ starting rotation.
Now, in his first season with the Twins, he can do no wrong.
The lefthander, who has conferred with Johan Santana about his changeup and with Jake Odorizzi about his cut fastball, devoured another lineup Monday while leading the Twins to an 8-0 victory over the Blue Jays.
Perez, 5-0, has a 0.43 ERA over his past three outings and has a 1.64 ERA since joining the starting rotation April 15.
Perez is locked in right now, commanding all his pitches — getting 15 swings and misses — while also benefitting from some borderline calls by home plate umpire Adam Hamari. No pitcher will feel guilty about that.
“I believe in what I have right now, and I trust my stuff,” said Perez, one of seven pitchers in baseball with at least five wins. “I just want to stay with my focus, and every time they give me the ball, I’m going to go out there and do something special for my team.”
In seven innings, Perez gave up two singles and two walks while striking out a career-high nine batters. The Twins eased their way to their third shutout of the young season, getting home runs from Jason Castro, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco.
“Our offense swung the bat well,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “but it really starts with Martin and what he did on the mound tonight.”
Perez threw first-pitch strikes to eight of the first 10 batters he faced, 17 of 24 for the game. His cut fastball has been a big weapon for him, as he’s used it to finish off hitters. On Monday he looked to incorporate his changeup more — something the Twins planned since Perez faced Toronto on April 15 — throwing it a season-high 26 times.
The way he commanded his pitches Monday, almost anything was going to work.
“It was fun,” said Castro, who is day-to-day after leaving the game in the eighth after being hit by a pitch. “Exactly what we talked about going into it. I hadn’t caught him in a few of his starts, but he’s really found his comfort zone out there in mixing different pitches, pretty much at will. So it was fun to catch.”
Perez threw back-to-back cutters to Eric Sogard in the third inning while striking him out. Sogard entered the game without a strikeout over his previous 40 plate appearances, which was the longest streak in the majors entering the game. Perez struck out Sogard twice.
Perez threw four changeups during a fourth inning encounter with super-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. before getting him to hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Twins had a 3-0 lead after two innings, including a two-run homer by Castro in the second, the first home run off Toronto righthander Marcus Stroman (1-5) in 44 innings going back to last season. The Twins added two runs in the fourth, one on Byron Buxton’s RBI ground-rule double, to take a 5-0 lead. Rosario hit his American League-leading 12th home run in the fifth. Perez was well on his way to what looked like an easy trip.
Toronto didn’t get its first hit until the fourth inning.
“I know that we scored some runs early, but I don’t lose my focus,” Perez said. “I always think 0-0. But everything was good tonight.”