It's not exactly a strong time of year for baseball column writing (maybe it's never really strong for me, but nonetheless). The club is currently attempting to decide which right-handed reliever to bring to prom this year, and at least in my view, will end up settling for the one with the most, ah, personality (read: Coffey, T.). Similarly, arbitration hearings are still about a month away.
Anyway, speaking of Coffey, or coffee as it were, sit back, or forward if your eyes require, and have a look at one of my favorite interviews from the 2011 season with starter-turned-stud reliever Glen Perkins.
Brandon Warne: People know you grew up in Stillwater, Minn.; can you tell me a little bit about what it meant for you to pitch at the University of Minnesota?
Glen Perkins: It’s a hometown thing, being here and getting the opportunity to pitch close to home. To be honest, I wasn’t a guy that said I always wanted to pitch for the Gophers. I kind of looked past that and always wanted to pitch for the Twins, which I obviously got the opportunity to do as well. But, it once I got there and met the coaching staff, it was an awesome experience. The things they taught me there are still things that I think about and use now.
BW: In a similar vein, what did it feel like to be drafted by the Twins? Were there any preliminary feelers when you were in the draft, perhaps suggesting the Twins could take you in the first round there?
GP: Yeah, I kind of talked to every team, because I knew I was going to be a maybe second half of the first round guy, or in the first half of the second round. I talked to all the teams, and coming down to it, I know that the A's said they were going to select me if I wasn’t gone, and I think that was 24th or 25th or something like that. So I knew that I’d be around there. The Twins had never really said that they were going to take me here or there, but the day of the draft my phone rang and it was a 612 number. I knew that was a Minnesota area code, and that it was someone with the Twins and it ended up being the scout that followed me, and he told me they were going to pick me with the 22nd pick.
BW: Did you get to chat with Billy Beane at all?
GP: No, I never went that far. It was more with the scouts and guys like that. It never really got that far, so I didn’t get that opportunity.
BW: What was it like to come through the Twins system, and what was it like to work up from the bottom rung all the way up to the major leagues?
GP: You know, they’re great at developing pitchers. I know that they have a solid history of that. Rick Knapp (former Twins minor league pitching coach) taught me a lot. As much as I learned at the U, I learned just as much from him. He’s one of the guys that I have the most respect for in all of baseball. He knows his stuff, and knows how to work with guys as individuals. He really had a way of pushing me and trying to get the best out of me, and making me want to be better myself and not just using my natural talent and ability to get here. He really pushed me, and I think that’s the one thing from coming up in the minor leagues here that I was thankful for, was to have a guy like that to work with.
BW: You mentioned Knapp, who was recently fired as the pitching coach of the Tigers. How do you feel about that situation? Have you thought about it much?
GP: Yeah, I feel for him. I know that was his dream, to be in the big leagues. I think that while it didn’t work out there, as well as I know him and what he’s all about and what he’s capable of doing, he’s going to be just fine. He may not be with the Tigers anymore, and he may not get a pitching coach job right away, but there are always vacancies. Guys are moving in and out, and he’s a guy that’s going to be around major league baseball for a long time. He’s as knowledgeable about pitching as anyone I’ve ever been around in my life.
BW: Back to you, can you talk a little bit about your first call-up here, and what it felt like to get that call?
GP: Yeah, we had just finished the Triple-A playoffs. We lost the last game of the Governors’ Cup, which is the Triple-A championship. I got called up that night, and went to Boston the next day, and debuted on the 21st in Fenway. Of all the stadiums, I think baseball fans and non-baseball fans know Fenway Park. To get an opportunity to play there, that was really something. The atmosphere there was incredible. It’s a great place to make a debut, and obviously you always remember your debut, but I think it was pretty special being at Fenway Park.
BW: What was your "Welcome to the MLB" moment?
GP: I think it was facing Frank Thomas in the playoffs. We played the A’s in the first round, and I made the playoff roster, and we went to Oakland. I pitched the third game in Oakland after Brad Radke. He was a guy in the 90s when I was a kid watching that was the guy. Him and Griffey. Having him in the batter’s box had me thinking, "My gosh, this is really crazy, pitching to Frank Thomas right now." I remember telling my brother that. That experience, of having a guy that you followed and idolized growing up, to have him in the batter’s box against you, was surreal.
BW: There was a little bit of controversy with your arm injury in 2009. Can you tell the story about that?
GP: That ’09 season was up-and-down, with the way my arm felt. I think that I went on the DL in August, and was obviously not healthy. I was hurt enough to be put on the DL, after all. There was just a little bit of a misunderstanding about coming back off, and whether or not I was healthy or not, or ready to come off and pitch. That’s kind of where the discrepancy was. It was a thing that we solved in the winter; we didn’t have to go an arbitrator or anything like that. It was a mutual decision. I think I got what I was looking for. It was just a thing where I didn’t want to go down, and I didn’t want to be a pushover.
There were certain things that I felt I did wrong, and there were certain things I felt like they did wrong. I didn’t want to just give in. I think I had something to fight for. I fought for it, and we settled on it. It was not fun; it’s never fun doing things like that. But, it’s a business, and we find out the hard way sometimes. We’re past that – long past that – and I’m glad I’m healthy now.
BW: So it’s totally water under the bridge there?
GP: Yeah, it’s been almost two years there. You’ve got to write it off. They wanted me around enough to keep me last year and offer me arbitration, and all those things. Obviously they thought I could do some things for them. They stuck by me; we never gave up on each other.
BW: You’ve made the transition from capable starting pitcher to elite reliever, as you’re currently really carving opposing hitters up. What’s been the key for you there to make that transition?
GP: I think the first thing is health, really. I was in the bullpen in ’07 up here, and was doing well, and kind of coming into my own in that spot. Then I tore my lat in Texas in May, and never really bounced back. I missed the rest of that season up until September, and pitched just a handful of innings in September, and then started in ’08 and ‘09. I think the workload and things like that, and throwing a lot, didn’t really allow me to get back to the velocity and command that I had before I got hurt. This is the first year now, in addition to last year in September, where I’m pitching more like I did in the pen back in ’07. It was a long time coming, but I’m glad I’m back where I’m at now.
BW: You’ve added velocity at about a rate of two miles-per-hour in the past two years; how has that gone for you? Have you added any more pitches or anything? You’ve fanned more batters than at any point in your professional career, so what exactly is working for you to that end?
GP: I know I haven’t thrown a pitch yet as hard as I threw in ’07. I hit 97 in ’07, and I’ve been in the 96s a little bit this year. I’m not trying to get exactly back there, but I’m also not back to where I think I can be after missing a bit of time with the oblique this year. But, velocity isn’t everything. I think obviously this year for me it’s shown to be really important, but it’s still about commanding the ball. I think what’s been going for me this year is that opposing hitters have to respect the fastball. When it’s coming in 95, they have to get ready early. I find that I’ll throw a fastball or two, and if they’re late, I know that I can throw a slider and that they’re going to have to cheat to try to hit the fastball, and before they can stop themselves, they see it’s a slider. That’s been the thing for me, mixing the fastball and the slider, and throwing them at the right time, whether it’s starting with the slider or finishing with the slider. Throwing those pitches at the right time and recognizing what the hitter is trying to do, and using that to my advantage has gone really well for me.
The other day, McGehee was late on two sliders, and I threw three more .Two were bad, and then the third one was down-and-in where I wanted to put it, and he swung over it. He was probably cheating on the fastball, and had to get his hands ready. It was a situation where I recognized what he was trying to do, and went the other way. I think that’s as much as anything like command, velocity and movement, is trying to realize what a hitter’s trying to do to you, and adjusting from there. But obviously, the harder you throw, the easier those things are to do.
BW: You came in and closed out the victory on July 3, for your first major league save in a very sticky situation (facing Prince Fielder with two runners on and one out). What was your adrenaline doing to you?
GP: It was actually better than I thought it was going to be. It was weird; I had pitched four games in a row, with an off day on Thursday. I pitched the last two against the Dodgers, and had already pitched the first two against Milwaukee. In the eighth, the lineup went lefty-righty-lefty, and while Joe Nathan and I had been splitting the eighth, I figured that since Joe went in there and I had pitched the last four days, that I was out. I still stayed into the game mentally obviously, and then the first guy got a hit in the ninth. With the way the game went the day before, I kind of thought that Gardenhire might do something crazy here.
I just stayed ready, and then the phone rang during the next batter. I just warmed up, and before I knew it, Fielder was coming up to bat and Gardy was on the mound calling me in. It really felt more like coming into a 10-0 game than a two-run game with two guys on and one out. It was really weird. It’s not the way I thought it would happen, but I’m glad it did. I was able to control my emotions and the crowd’s and all those things, and make pitches, and help the team bail Matt Capps out a little bit.
BW: You’d previously mentioned to me that you’re a big Fangraphs fan; do you check out any other baseball sites regularly like Baseball Prospectus or anything like that?
GP: No. I actually got going on Fangraphs through Joe Posnanski. I started reading him and got to know him, and we’ve had a lot of conversations about the sabermetric side of baseball. It’s something I’ve really gotten into. I think it’s interesting. I was a math guy in college, and it really intrigues me to look at baseball and to think you can break a game down with numbers. It’s a fun site to read. Their views on things are the new wave of thinking and help me have pretty good conversations with guys like Cuddy, who is an old-school guy.
We’ve had some interesting conversations about things like that. He calls me the new-school punk, and he’s the old-school, old guy I guess. *laughs* I like what they have to say, but the one thing I have beef with is the reliever thing. I think they undervalue relievers. I know that from experience. I know none of those guys have the experience. They say that there’s no difference between the sixth inning and the eighth or ninth inning, and I know that there is. I don’t know if there’s any way to quantify that, though. Being out there in those situations, that’s the one thing where I read that and cringe and think, "Man alive, if you guys could only be out there, you’d know what it’s like to pitch in the sixth in a game that’s already out of hand, or the ninth of game that isn’t." There’s a difference. I don’t know what that difference is, but it’s definitely there. Other than that, I like what they have to say, but that’s the one thing that gets me every time.
BW: You’re on Twitter now. Who bugged you into it, or did you join on your own?
GP: Cuddy did. I sit next to him on the bus ride back from the field at night, and he always looks at his phone and goes through his twitter feed. The people he follows, like Jayson Stark and the different guys, have the fun different quizzes throughout the day. Naming the three guys who did this or the five guys who did that, and stuff like that. I was just asking him about it, and he always asks me questions like that. I think we’re both pretty knowledgeable on baseball, in both the history and the present and all that, and just kind of knowing what guys have done. Anyway, we get into these little quizzes and that and I was looking at it one night, and I think he was on Jayson Stark’s twitter reading different things and facts and I thought that was really cool. He told me I should just get on there and follow the same guys. I would go on every night after the game and look at different websites and read stuff, and it kind of just puts everything in one place.
That’s what really got me going on it. It wasn’t as much about the fan interaction thing, as it was for my own personal use. I can credit Cuddy for that, though. It’s given us even more good conversations.
*This column appeared in entirety at Upper Deck Report in July.