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Baker strikes out 10 Padres in shutout win

June 18, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Scott Baker started it with a complete game in his last start. With an eight-inning outing on Saturday, he kept the Twins rolling on their winning streak.

For the third time in his career, Baker struck out 10 batters as the Twins won their season-high sixth straight game, 1-0, over the Padres.

Closer Matt Capps also pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 11th save of the season and his third in as many games, as the Twins secured their fifth straight series victory.

“If you like that kind of thing, 1-0 ballgames [are] very exciting,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Baker delivered yet another dominant start, tossing eight scoreless innings while allowing just four hits. He struck out eight of the first 13 batters he faced, reaching double-digit strikeouts for the first time since June 16, 2010, when he had a career-high 12 strikeouts against the Rockies.

After a season-high 112 pitches in a complete game last time out, Baker surpassed that with 115 pitches on Saturday, his most since July 19, 2009 against the White Sox. With the win, Baker improved to 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA.

Baker had a lot of success up in the strike zone, while also getting the Padres hitters to swing and miss 18 times out of 80 strikes.

“I’ve seen him before,” said Padres manager Bud Black, who was the Angels pitching coach through the 2006 season. “The fastball has a little bit of life at the end. He was pitching at the top of the [strike] zone. It takes a lot of discipline for a hitter to lay off that.

“He didn’t throw many pitches down the heart of the plate tonight.”

Things didn’t look good for Baker after he gave up a triple to Chris Denorfia to lead off the game. But that quickly changed, as Baker retired 23 of the next 27 batters he faced.

Baker struck out two batters in the first and followed that by striking out the side in the second. He added a strikeout in the third and two more in both the fourth and seventh innings.

But he insisted he was not trying to strike guys out.

“You make a good two-strike pitch,” Baker said. “When you strike guys out, that’s never good, at least it isn’t for me. It’s not a good idea. I tend to overthrow. So it’s just a matter of picking a good two-strike location, whether it’s an elevated fastball or breaking ball in the dirt or a fastball off the plate a little bit.”

Twins starters have posted a 1.73 ERA since June 2, giving up just 20 earned runs in 104 1/3 innings. Baker also helped lower the Twins’ ERA to a Major League-best 1.89.

Over the course of the Twins’ six-game winning streak, the starters have averaged eight innings with just five runs allowed in 48 innings for a 0.93 ERA.

Baker didn’t need much offense, and the Twins gave him just enough. Third baseman Danny Valencia homered for the second straight night, a second-inning shot that held up as the deciding run. It was Valencia’s seventh home run, and his team-leading 32nd RBI.

For the second time in three games, the Twins picked up the victory with a home run providing the only run in the game.

“It was nice to get that one. And it held up, which is great,” Valencia said. “Being able to come up with a hit like that helps you win the game, especially with the way things are going right now, is huge.”

Valencia has shown signs over the last few games of breaking out of his slump. After homering on May 21 in Arizona, Valencia batted .183 with five doubles and four RBIs in 22 games between home runs.

Over the last two nights, Valencia is 2-for-7 with a pair of long home runs and four RBIs.

Padres starter Tim Stauffer was impressive in his own right, limiting the Twins to just one run on six hits over seven innings. Valencia’s home run snapped Stauffer’s 16-inning scoreless streak, and dealt him his fifth loss.

His last run allowed came in the fifth inning on June 2 against the Astros. Despite his performance, he has received just 19 runs of support from the Padres offense, with Saturday marking the fifth game in which the offense did not score with Stauffer on the mound.

“I thought that Stauffer threw very well tonight,” Baker said. “It was just a matter of one pitch.”

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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