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Twins beat 4/12

April 13, 2011

Hughes picks up win against former team

MINNEAPOLIS — Even after picking up his second career win Tuesday against his former team, Twins left-handed reliever Dusty Hughes insisted it was just another game.

“It’s great” Hughes said. “I wouldn’t say it’s any extra because it’s against the old team or anything like that. [But] it really is kind of neat to get to pitch against them.”

After spending seven years in the Kansas City Royals organization, Hughes was happy to see some familiar faces in town.

Some of his best friends remaining in the Royals’ clubhouse, whom he still spends time with when he can, include Mitch Maier, Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, Kanekoa Texeira and Joakim Soria. When he came in to pitch the 10th of the Twins’ 4-3 victory, Hughes retired the heart of the Royals’ lineup in order, including Butler, who batted second in the inning.

“You have to kind of put things behind you as far as that goes,” Hughes said. “It was kind of neat to get to face Billy Butler and [Alex] Gordon. But it’s just [like] any other game, you go out there to win a ballgame.

“I was going to try to keep us in it at that point. You just try and do anything you can to not give up any runs and give our team a chance. I was fortunate enough to do that tonight.”

Hughes needed just 12 pitches, and a spectacular diving grab of his own, to get out of the inning and send it to the bottom of the 10th.

Before the Twins decided to claim Hughes off waivers from the Royals this offseason, they consulted with the left-handed hitters in their lineup.

The consensus among them was that Hughes was a tough-to-hit, deceptive southpaw. To Hughes, hearing the respect his new teammates had for him meant a lot.

“I heard that a couple weeks ago,” Hughes said. “I didn’t know that in Spring Training at all, but yeah, that’s unbelievable to me because of just the whole repertoire of left-handed hitters they have here, starting with [Denard] Span and all the way down to [Jason] Kubel.

“It’s pretty flattering to know that if they asked any of those guys, for them to say, ‘He can pitch for us,’ it’s a confidence builder for me.”

Since struggling in his season debut April 1 at Toronto, Hughes has been exactly as advertised. In two innings of work against the Yankees, he allowed just two hits while striking out three batters. Against the A’s on Saturday at Target Field, Hughes retired each of the two batters he faced in the seventh with a strikeout.

Hughes has been an integral part of a surprisingly good Twins bullpen that many thought was the team’s biggest question mark heading into the 2011 season. Entering Tuesday, Minnesota was tied with Toronto for the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the American League at 3.00 over 27 innings. Twins relievers had allowed just 22 hits and held opponents to a .239 batting average.

“Somebody pointed out to me that we hadn’t given up a run for a while, and we obviously did the other day,” Hughes said. “So, I’ve got to get on that guy.

“But I think as a whole, we’ve got a really good group out there. We’re starting to really mesh well already and it’s getting good, it’s getting fun.”

Twins’ offense struggling out of the gate

MINNEAPOLIS — Last season, the Minnesota Twins ranked at or near the top of the Majors of most offensive statistical categories. Through nine games this season, they were at or near the bottom.

The 2010 Twins were second in the Majors in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging and third in batting average. Entering Tuesday, the Twins were 29th, 30th and 29th in the same categories. Thanks to those struggles, and surprise hot starts by the Indians and Royals, the Twins entered Tuesday night last in the American League Central standings.

As the Twins continued to struggle at the plate through their first home series, some boos could be heard from the crowd following disappointing groundouts or strikeouts.

“They just want us to get hits, that’s all,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We expect that. We want to get hits, and guys are trying really hard. And they’re good hitters, they’ve got the track record.”

Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Minnesota entered Tuesday last in RBIs, driving in just 24 runs compared to the Reds, who lead the Majors with 62. The Twins also ranked last in total bases with 85, walks with 19, and home runs with three.

With an OPS of .554, the Twins are more than 300 points behind the Phillies, who lead at .865. One problem may be the Twins aren’t taking enough pitches, as they’ve seen only 1,209, which ranks last in the league and is 450 fewer than the Tigers have faced.

Whatever the issue may be, the Twins continue to say they’re not worried about it, and they expect the offense will come at some point.

“It’s way too early,” Gardenhire said. “Everybody wants to get off to a good start, obviously we haven’t. We’ve faced some really good pitching staffs early in the season.

“I feel pretty good about this group.”

Twins handing out too many free passes

MINNEAPOLIS — When the Twins mounted a three-run rally in the eighth inning Sunday, it was not enough because they had dug themselves into too deep of a hole.

It can be tough to win when your starter pitches just five innings and gives up four runs on seven hits, including two no-doubt home runs. That was the case Sunday, but the bigger issue so far this season has been the surprisingly high number of walks allowed.

After leading the Majors with the fewest walks allowed at 383 last season, the Twins have put 36 opposing hitters on base via the walk, the eighth-highest total in the league entering Tuesday.

Left-handed starter Francisco Liriano has especially struggled with walks, giving up eight through his first two starts of the season, both losses.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” Liriano said. “We’re not the type of guys to go out there and walk a lot of people. I think we’re trying to do too much, trying to be too perfect.”

The A’s walked five times in their 5-3 victory over the Twins, including a crucial free pass in the sixth inning issued by reliver Jeff Manship. After relieving Scott Baker, Manship walked the first batter he faced, loading the bases.

Each of the next three batters drove in one run apiece. In his postgame press conference, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire acknowledged that walks were an issue, but did not think they were the reason for his team’s loss.

“Too many [walks]. I think that’s the one frustrating thing,” Gardenhire said. “We’re accustomed to throwing the ball over the plate and making them swing, and we’ve given way too many gifts out there.

“We’re just misfiring a little bit, but this shouldn’t be about our pitching. What did we give up, seven runs in this series? I think that was about it. So it’s really not about our pitching.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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