ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – There were pats on the back, even a slight grin.
Twins players and coaches knew Martin Perez had a rough outing Thursday night as the Twins were trounced 14-3 by Tampa Bay, but they already had moved on. Bench coach Derek Shelton hugged Perez as he began to walk out of the clubhouse, and Perez stopped and said a few words to Byron Buxton that made him smile.
It was a rout, tying for the most lopsided defeat of the season and the 14 runs are the most the Twins have surrendered since last September. The Twins trailed 11-0 at one point before Ehire Adrianza drove in Luis Arraez with a fifth-inning single. But a Twins team that hasn’t lost more than two consecutive games all season already had moved on.
“They got me [Thursday],” said Perez, who lasted only 2⅔ innings and fell to 7-2. “It was a bad outing. It’s going to happen; I’m not perfect, and pass the page and work on my next bullpen and be ready to face Cleveland.”
Perez threw 63 pitches, getting only eight outs before manager Rocco Baldelli signaled for the bullpen in the third inning. Perez’s replacement, Zack Littell, gave up five runs in the fourth before settling in.
But it was during those third and fourth innings that Tampa Bay sent a whopping 19 batters to the plate.
Perez saw his ERA climb from 2.95 to 3.71 during his shortest outing as a Twin, after his start was pushed back one day to ensure he was well-rested for the Rays. He pitched a scoreless first inning then breezed through a nine-pitch second before he fell apart in the third. After looking sharp for two innings and getting a strikeout to open the third, Perez fell behind the next three batters 2-0 before giving up a single and two walks.
“I think in that third inning, it was basically losing command for that little bit,” Baldelli said. “He actually threw some good cutters, I think. They were probably balls but good pitches they laid off and ended up extending some at-bats and ended up walking a few guys.”
The bases were loaded for Austin Meadows, who attacked a first-pitch fastball and sent it past a diving C.J. Cron at first base.
The ball took an odd bounce off the wall and got by Max Kepler, ensuring that all three runners scored to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
Perez could not stop the bleeding. Travis d’Arnaud hit an RBI single. Brandon Lowe added a two-run single. Tampa Bay led 6-0, forcing Baldelli out of the dugout with his hook.
Perez’s use of a cut fastball has been pivotal to his turnaround, but he’s also developed a good changeup. Only 10 of his 63 pitches were changeups, a tad under his average usage of 18.4% for the season.
“These are the kinds of things that we talk about and spend time on,” Baldelli said, “and I know [pitching coach] Wes Johnson will probably dig into that and spend some time on it.”
Littell gave up five runs in the fourth inning but recovered to throw two scoreless innings before Tampa Bay added three in the seventh, including Ji-Man Choi’s two-run homer. Mike Morin pitched the eighth, but the bullpen was spared unnecessary work.
And the Twins will focus on bouncing back from a rare clunker.
“Whether the previous game goes well or it doesn’t, our group comes in the same way,” Baldelli said. “They come in ready to play the following day. That’s what we have come to expect from ourselves. I think that’s what we will see [Friday].”