Glen Perkins: Prodigal Son

Glen Perkins entered the 2011 season with nothing guaranteed.  With just 21 2/3 big league innings and a 5.82 ERA on his 2010 resume, he had hardly cemented himself in the Twins plans. Not only that, the lefthander had alienated some in the organization after filing a union grievance in 2009.  Depending on his performance, Perkins could have been demoted, traded or even released this spring. With all he’d been through, maybe it was time for a fresh start somewhere else.

Golden Boy to Problem Child
The Stillwater native was a 1st round pick by the Twins in 2004 after a standout career at the University of Minnesota. He debuted with the big club in September two years later. Perkins then made 19 appearances out of the bullpen in 2007 before having what appeared to be a breakout season in 2008.

After beginning the ’08 campaign in Rochester, Perkins was called up in May and never looked back. The young southpaw’s 12-4 record helped the Twins come within one game of a division title. The local boy had made good and looked to be a fixture in the Twins rotation for years to come.

Early in 2009 it was more of the same, Perkins got off to a hot start before an inflamed elbow landed him on the Disabled List in May. He returned in June, but was soon nagged by shoulder problems before returning to the DL in August with tendonitis. Then the real trouble started. When he returned to health later that month, Perkins expected to rejoin the Twins, but instead was optioned to Rochester where he finished the season.

Feeling he was unfairly demoted, Perkins filed a grievance against the Twins alleging the organization sent him to the minors to keep him from earning enough major league service time to qualify for arbitration and receive the big raise that comes with it.  The matter was eventually settled, but many felt Perkins had burned too many bridges to make it back to Twins Territory. Improbably, the lefthander returned in 2010, but spent the bulk of the season toiling in Rochester, making just 13 appearances for the Twins.

Perkins entered 2011 fighting for a spot in the Twins rebuilt bullpen.  He was motivated, mature and most importantly, healthy. “He’s always been an outstanding pitcher and we got a taste of him when he was healthy a few years back and he had some unfortunate injuries,” fellow reliever Joe Nathan commented. “It just took him a while to come back. Everyone is so surprised about how hard he is throwing, but he was doing that before his injury. It’s just nice to see him back here healthy and settling in. People are finally taking notice of what we saw years back.”

While the Twins bullpen was a disaster this season, Perkins flourished, posting a 2.48 ERA with 17 holds and a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 3-to-1. With this success behind him, the 28-year-old is not looking back.

“That ship has sailed,” Perkins said referring to his days as a starting pitcher. “I like where I am at. I am comfortable and it’s easier for me to focus…I’ve really enjoyed this year. Obviously, this is the most successful I’ve been in a baseball season since I was in college, so it’s easy to enjoy it. It hasn’t even been just the success; it’s been going out there every day and knowing that I might get to pitch. My ability to focus when I know that I might be playing that night is so much greater.”

A Mentor
Perkins and Nathan had been in the same orbit for about five years, but it wasn’t until this season that they bonded. The 36-year-old Nathan was disorientated after missing all of the 2010 season following elbow surgery. The erstwhile Twins closer found himself pitching in a new stadium with longtime companions Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain having left the team for lucrative free agent contracts in Los Angeles and Chicago.

“I’ve played with (Nathan) since ’06, (but) he always had Matty Guerrier and Jesse (Crain) and those guys, so I was always on the outside looking in,” Perkins explained. “This year, I’ve really gotten to know him well and play catch with him and spend a lot of time with him. I talk to him pretty much nonstop throughout the day. He’s just a guy that if there are any little questions…he’s been through it, he’s done it. He’s a resource – he’s so willing to help. That’s been awesome for me ever since I got here really, (but) even more so this year, (with me) kinda adjusting to the role.”

Nathan meanwhile, has enjoyed watching his younger teammate realize his potential. “This year I think we’ve gotten closer just being around each other all the time,” he reflected. “We’re doing similar roles, we’re going to the ‘pen at the same time, we’re hanging out off the field on the road. It’s just one of those situations where we are finally on the same club for a full season too… so we’ve gotten a chance to build our relationship and get a lot closer.”

Future Closer?
With Nathan working his way back to form and incumbent closer Matt Capps struggling, Perkins was given some save opportunities in early July. Using his upper 90s fastball, he excelled leading to speculation that he could be the Twins closer of the future.

Although he must have enjoyed the taste of the glamorous role, Perkins downplayed the situation. “It’s the 9th inning and if I get the guys out, the game is over,” he explained. “If I go out there in the 7th or 8th in the same kind of situation and don’t get the job done the game is going to be over too – we are going to lose. That’s the mentality I took into it and  I was a lot more relaxed and a lot less nervous and a lot more calm than I thought I was going to be, which was good. It was a good test to get into a situation like that and be able to succeed and help out Cappy.”

Nathan, a 4-time All Star and the franchise’s all time leader in saves, believes Perkins will have plenty of options. “Him being a lefty, it’s going to be one of those situations where, ‘Where is he more valuable?’” the 11-year veteran pointed out. “Is he going to be more valuable as a closer or is he going to be more valuable being that guy who sets people up. That could change according to the organization, according to the team he is on. Fortunately for him, he’s got stuff to do both. I don’t think his stuff is going to hinder him from doing anything…either way I see him having a bright future in this game.”

Lessons Learned
While Perkins doesn’t dwell on the past, he certainly has learned from it. “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, it’s that old cliché” he commented. “I definitely learned that things don’t always go the way you think they are going to go. It helped me in the long run just to know that you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low because I’ve had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. You just learn to handle situations and not get wound up and not get caught up in what is going on.”

After years of struggling, trying to forge a big league identity, Perkins is finally healthy and happy. Just ask Nathan, “You can see the smile on his face; he’s enjoying the game a lot better now.”

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