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Hardy’s blast makes winner of Britton

August 22, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Had it not been for a fan wearing a Joe Mauer jersey, J.J. Hardy likely would have been out, and Twins starter Carl Pavano could have gotten out of the inning with the game still tied.

Hardy got a second chance, instead, and he took advantage of it, crushing a 2-2 fastball from Pavano to left for a go-ahead homer in the fifth inning of a 4-1 Orioles win over the Twins on Monday night at Target Field.

“Was it a Mauer fan?” Hardy asked. “Somebody was saying he was wearing a Hardy jersey.”

Hardy’s solo home run, his 24th of the season, made for a happy homecoming for the former Twins shortstop and helped lefty Zach Britton and the Orioles pick up the much-needed victory.

Baltimore snapped a five-game losing streak and Britton snapped a five-decision skid of his own, earning his first win since June 8 against Oakland.

“I think it was bigger for the team, more so than me,” Britton said. “Obviously it’s good to get the win, but I think we needed it. The way we played in Anaheim, to be able to come out and get the first win, the first day here, I think it sets the tone for the next three games.”

Britton had some long innings — he allowed at least one baserunner in each of his five frames — and saw his pitch count rise to 98, but he was otherwise solid in his first start since Aug. 4.

After going on the disabled list Aug. 5 with a left shoulder strain, Britton was activated before the game and went five innings, allowing one run on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts.

“It’s just one of those days, I’m so excited to be back and I’m overthrowing everything,” Britton said. “I didn’t really have great command, so my mindset was like, ‘Here it is.’ I’m going to make them beat me with my stuff. I’m going to throw it over the plate because I know I can’t hit corners right now.”

Britton got big outs to end the third and fifth innings, both of which came with Jim Thome at the plate and runners in scoring position.

In the third, with a run already having scored, Britton walked consecutive batters to load the bases for Thome. Britton threw a 1-1 fastball and Thome ripped it to left, but it stayed in the park and was caught for the final out.

“It was big,” Britton said. “Any time you can get out of those situations — especially with a close game, and especially coming back my first day, having some bad outings recently — to be able to get out of there where I haven’t been able to in the past was pretty big.”

Britton then struck Thome out looking, stranding a pair of runners in the fifth.

“He was right at the limit there and he was going to be real mad at having to come out at 4 2/3 if he walked Thome there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But he made a big pitch there to get out of it, and I’m proud of him.”

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters added another solo blast in the sixth, his 13th of the year, and Nick Markakis drove in Hardy from first with a one-out double in the seventh for a final insurance run.

The Twins scored their only run off Britton in the third when Ben Revere singled with one out and later came around on a Mauer groundout.

Revere made a highlight-reel grab to end the seventh when he raced back to make a leaping, over-the-shoulder catch at the wall in center field, robbing Vladimir Guerrero of an extra-base hit and keeping a run off the board.

“It was unbelievable,” Hardy said. “That was as good as Adam Jones’ catch in Seattle.”

Right-hander Chris Jakubauskas relieved Britton to start the sixth, and retired the first five Twins he faced. Jakubauskas combined with lefty Michael Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg to hold the Twins scoreless with just two hits over the final four innings.

“The kid threw the ball very well against us,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was ejected in the eighth for arguing balls and strikes. “Their bullpen came in and changed speeds and threw some curveballs. I think at one point I looked up and saw we had eight guys left on base, and that tells you the whole story.”

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

Pavano struggles as Twins are swept by Brewers

June 26, 2011 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — A six-game National League roadtrip finally ended on Sunday for the Twins, but not before their fifth straight loss, a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Brewers at Miller Park.

It was Minnesota’s seventh consecutive loss to Milwaukee, finalizing the Brewers’ second straight sweep of the Twins.

“I hear they’ve struggled a little bit offensively, but we don’t see it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We see some pretty good hitters all the way up and down that lineup, to tell you the truth. Right now, I wish we struggled like they were struggling.”

In the first inning of the trip, the Twins’ offense looked pretty good, as it scored eight runs on nine hits on the way to its eighth straight victory. In the ensuing 53 innings, the Twins were outscored, 30-9.

Minnesota now sits nine games behind first-place Detroit.

“For us right now, because of the injuries, everything’s got to be going on all cylinders,” said Michael Cuddyer. “Our hitters have to pick up our pitchers, and our pitchers have to pick up the hitters. That’s the way that we went on our streak, and that’s the way we’re going to have to win. That’s it.”

Right-hander Carl Pavano got the win in a 9-2 victory over the Giants on Tuesday, but he couldn’t end the Twins’ losing skid on Sunday. After four scoreless innings, Pavano gave up five runs, including a two-run home run to Ryan Braun in the fifth and RBI doubles in the sixth by Jonathan Lucroy and Brewers starter Chris Narveson.

It all started with a triple to left field by Lucroy that could have been a double, if Jason Repko had fielded it cleanly. Pavano retired the next two batters, but Nyjer Morgan followed with an RBI single before Braun crushed an 0-1 pitch to right-center.

“He can really hit the ball, we’ve all known that for a long time,” Gardenhire said. “He covered that fastball pretty good. I think it was up just a little bit, but man, he hit the heck out of that ball.”

Pavano finished with five runs allowed on eight hits over six innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. He took his sixth loss of the season, despite recording his 1,000th career strikeout in the fifth inning.

“That’s a tough loss,” Pavano said. “My job today was to go out there and end this losing streak, and I wasn’t able to do that.”

Jim Thome, who pinch-hit in the seventh, reached a milestone of his own by recording his 1,637th RBI, putting him ahead of Ernie Banks for 28th on the all-time list.

In addition to helping his own cause at the plate, Narveson was impressive on the mound, giving up just two runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts against two walks. Narveson improved to 5-5 on the season with a 4.42 ERA.

Not only did the Twins lose five of six games on the roadtrip, they also added two more injuries to the long list they had already compiled this season. The Twins have now used the disabled list 16 times this season for 13 players.

“It’s tough to go out there and win and even compete when you’re missing some of your best players,” Braun said. “I think when they get everybody back healthy, obviously, they’re a much better team.”

Of the nine hitters in the Opening Day lineup for the Twins, only three — Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia and Cuddyer — have avoided stints on the DL. Through 76 games this season, the Twins have used 39 players, including four catchers, four shortstops, five second basemen, six left fielders, five right fielders and 11 designated hitters.

But that doesn’t mean anyone is going to take it easy on the injury-plagued Twins.

“I don’t really care,” Brewers slugger Prince Fielder said. “That’s the team that’s out there, so you have to try to beat them.”

Gardenhire has also used 70 different batting orders and 66 different defensive lineups in 76 games. The most common of each has only been used three times.

When the Twins won 15 of 17 games earlier this month, they executed well, and it didn’t seem to matter who they put on the field. On this trip, they looked more like the Twins ballclub that was 20 games under .500 and 16 1/2 games back at the beginning of June.

Especially in Milwaukee, sloppy defense and mistakes cost the Twins. In their five straight losses, the Twins have committed seven errors, which allowed four unearned runs to score.

“It looked like we were chasing a mouse around out there,” Gardenhire said. “I hate sloppy baseball. … Those are plays you just have to make. And it just shows right up on the scoreboard when you don’t make ’em; all these runs start going up.”

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

Twins notebook, 6/18

June 18, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — When two runs allowed over six innings marks your team’s worst start in nearly a week, you know you must be doing something right.

One of the biggest keys to the Twins winning 12 of 14 games has been starting pitching. Since June 2, Twins starters entered Saturday having posted a 1.87 ERA, while allowing 20 earned runs in 96 1/3 innings with 61 strikeouts against 16 walks.

In the last time through the rotation, Twins starters averaged eight innings per start, including a pair of complete games by Scott Baker and Carl Pavano.

“Any time you have that working for you, it means you’re still in the games if your starter’s still in there late,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “You want to see your starters going deep into games, and that means you’re having those opportunities to win things. Normally when they’re out there the game’s a pretty good one.”

In the month of June, the Twins had a Major League-best 2.01 ERA through Friday night. Not only is their ERA the best, it’s a half-run better than the Phillies’ second-best mark of 2.52 and nearly 1 1/2 runs better than the Mariners (3.45), who rank second in the American League.

On their current homestand, Twins starters have gone 5-1 in the first seven games, with a 1.82 ERA over 63 innings pitched. The only disappointing start came against the Rangers last Saturday when lefty Brian Duensing gave up seven runs (three earned) on seven hits in two innings.

Duensing made up for it by holding the Padres to two runs over six innings Friday night.

“Our starters have all kind of adjusted to what they need to do,” Gardenhire said. “They’re throwing the ball very well. Hopefully it’ll continue.”

Not surprisingly, the starters’ success has coincided with much better performances out of the Twins’ bullpen this month as well. Before right-hander Alex Burnett gave up a three-run homer Friday night, the bullpen had allowed just three runs in 28 2/3 innings in June.

Even with those three runs added, the Twins bullpen has posted a 1.71 ERA in June. A common theme with both the rotation and bullpen has been a significant reduction in the number of walks issued lately compared with early in the season.

“More so than anything else, I think it’s just a concerted effort to throw the ball over the plate,” Gardenhire said. “They all know that working ahead in the count, and not walking people, it’s been proven that it’s been successful here, and pretty much everywhere else in baseball.”

Defense hurts Twins in loss to Angels

May 30, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Some games this year, it’s been the Twins offense. In others, the pitching has been to blame. In their series finale with the Angels on Sunday, defense was the problem.

Only two errors went down in the box score, on throws by Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe in the third inning, but defensive miscues seemed to come far too often as the Twins lost to the Angels, 6-5, at Target Field.

Plouffe opened the third inning with a throw that got past Justin Morneau at first base, but it was ruled an infield single for Mark Trumbo. Two batters later, Valencia also threw one past Morneau, which went down as another single. Valencia was credited for the error when the runner advanced to third base.

Capping things off was Plouffe, who sailed a throw past first base with two outs, allowing the run to score from third for the Angels’ third run of the inning.

“I sailed ’em,” Plouffe said of the throws. “That’s all that is.”

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been on Plouffe about his defense, and Sunday’s performance was not exactly what he had in mind.

Earlier in the week, Plouffe misplayed a couple balls in the infield by not being aggressive and getting to them quickly enough, allowing the runners to beat his throws. On his poor throws Sunday, Plouffe also seemed to lack some aggression, appearing tentative as he tossed the ball over to first.

“It kind of looked like he didn’t let ’em fly, just kind of lobbed ’em over there,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what we’re talking about. Be aggressive.

“We worked really hard at it yesterday and he did a good job throwing the ball.”

Gardenhire talked before the game about how Plouffe had been unhappy the other day after having to answer questions from a number of reporters about his defensive struggles. It motivated Plouffe to work on his play at shortstop, leading him to put in extra work.

Whatever the problem is, the work Plouffe is putting in, and the focus he’s put on being aggressive have not translated into positive results on the field.

“I’ve got to look at some video, see what I’m doing, and make an adjustment,” Plouffe said. “That’s all I can do. I can’t go back in time and fix anything right now. Just move forward.”

One tough defensive inning behind him was enough to keep Carl Pavano in pursuit of his 100th career win for at least one more start. Pavano battled well against Angels starter Dan Haren, but the three-run third inning was the difference.

Making his sixth attempt at getting that elusive career mark, Pavano remained winless for the month of May. He went eight innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 10 hits. Pavano struck out three batters and did not allow a walk.

While the third inning was tough, Pavano was bothered most by the run he allowed in the fifth, which made it a two-run game when Jeff Mathis scored on an Erick Aybar single.

“The thing that stands out the most for me is allowing [Mathis] to get a walking lead and steal second,” Pavano said. “That run right there really makes it a tight ball game, it changes the order, how the order comes up. I gave him no credit at all and he ends up stealing that bag and scoring on a bloop to center.”

Haren did not appear to have his best stuff against the Twins, giving up three runs on 10 hits and exiting after six innings with just two strikeouts.

But he still picked up the win, as the Angels offense picked him up.

“I didn’t really have any out pitches,” Haren said. “I needed runs today. I didn’t have much.”

A three-hit game for Denard Span highlighted the Twins offensive output. Span scored after doubling in the first, drove in Plouffe with his seventh-inning double, singled home Matt Tolbert to spark a ninth-inning rally and later scored on Justin Morneau’s single to bring the Twins within a run.

The Twins’ ninth-inning rally came up short, as they plated a pair of runs on two singles and two walks. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer drove a ball deep to center field, but Peter Bourjos was right there to make the out to end the game.

While they came up short and dropped to 17-34 overall with a 6-15 home record, the Twins were encouraged by the late rally after a tough game.

“We kept fighting,” Cuddyer said. “We never gave up, and we haven’t given up yet. We’ve got to keep playing hard.”

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

Reversal unfortunate for Tribe in loss to Twins

April 24, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — When left fielder Michael Brantley crushed a slider deep to right in the fourth inning, it initially looked like he had a three-run home run.

As it hit off the top of the limestone in right field, the umpires signaled home run, and Brantley trotted around the bases and back to the Indians dugout. But the Twins thought otherwise, and after talking to manager Ron Gardenhire, the umpires reviewed the play.

That proved to be the difference in the Indians’ 4-3 loss Sunday to the Twins at Target Field. Some persuasion from Gardenhire may have helped convince the umpires to take a second look.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to see a lot of balls like that, but I know the ball has to go off the top of the wall. We kind of decided that when we went over the ground rules,” Gardenhire said. “It looked like it hit on the corner to me, bouncing back.

“The only way it could do that [and be a home run] is if it ricochets off the [steel] fence. So in my opinion, it went off the corner, and that’s what I tried to explain to the umpires.”

Instead of Brantley’s first homer of the season, it turned out to be a two-run double. But the Indians weren’t complaining about it afterward.

“They made the right call,” Brantley said. I watched the replay two innings later. It definitely wasn’t a home run. It hit the corner of the wall and came back. A little unlucky for us, but that’s the way the game goes.”

After the official review, the Indians’ rally was halted as Brantley was sent back to second. Cleveland appeared to have Twins starter Carl Pavano on the ropes, but the review gave the right-hander time to collect himself and get out of the inning.

Pavano walked the next batter, Lou Marson, before retiring the next two to end the inning. Over the next three innings, Pavano retired nine of 10 batters he faced.

“I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t know if I gave up three runs or four runs and that I had to wait out there for like five minutes,” Pavano said. “So I threw for a little bit. But it saved us a run and we ended up getting a win, so it’s even better.”

“You get a little bit of do-over right there so you want to make good by it. But the guys made some good plays out there and I made some good pitches to get out of it.”

While they agreed with the call that it was not a home run, the Indians disputed the decision to put Brantley at second.

In their opinion, based on Brantley’s speed, he should have been awarded third base.

“Every rule has its loophole,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “Is it a double? Is it a triple? You could rule it a triple with Michael running, but Michael couldn’t run hard because as soon as he stepped on first base he had three umpires in front of him signaling a home run.

“We wanted replay, we have it, it gets a correct call 99 out of 100 times, I guess. But it has its loophole that somehow, someway, still keeps the human element into it because the umpires have to make a judgment.”

Had the umpires put Brantley on third base, the Indians would have been able to drive him in with either a ground out or a fly out. And two batters later, third baseman Jack Hannahan flew out to right field for the second out of the inning.

While it’s hard to say what would have happened with Brantley on third base instead of second, the chances of his teammates driving him in certainly would have been higher.

The Indians would not score again, however, and it was left to the bullpen to hold the lead. But with right-hander Carlos Carrasco leaving after just three innings with right elbow tightness, that was no easy task.

Carrasco started to feel the tightness during his warm up in the bullpen, and when it got worse in the third inning, he approached Acta and the Indians brought him out of the game. The tightness affected Carrasco most on the fastball.

“Last time, against Kansas City, I threw 94 to 96, and today I threw 88 to 91,” Carrasco said. “Today it felt a little bit more tight in this spot right here, so I couldn’t throw the fastball.”

Carrasco allowed two runs on six hits with two walks and one strikeout. After holding the Twins to just one hit over the first two frames, Carrasco got hit hard in the third, putting the Indians in an early 2-0 hole.

Fortunately for Carrasco, a pair of Twins runners were out at the plate on throws by right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and it allowed the right-hander to escape the inning with minimal damage.

Choo retired Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla for the second out of the inning, after Casilla ran through a stop sign from third-base coach Steve Liddle. Two batters later, after first baseman Justin Morneau had driven in a pair of runs with a double to deep center, Morneau was Choo’s next victim at the plate on another single to right.

After he had already retired Casilla earlier in the inning, Choo said he was surprised to see Morneau take a shot at scoring on him.

“If he wins a Gold Glove, we’ll probably have Steve hand it out,” Gardenhire joked.

Jeanmar Gomez pitched in relief, as he had become available with his next start pushed back to Saturday by the rainout Friday and Monday’s off-day. Gomez pitched three innings, impressing Acta as he gave up one run on three hits and one walk with a strikeout.

After giving up a leadoff single in the seventh, Gomez was taken out in favor of Rafael Perez, but the lefty could not get the Indians out of the inning.

With one out, Perez surrendered a long double to right field off the bat of Jason Kubel that plated two runs to give the Twins a 4-3 lead they would not give back. The loss marked the first time this season the Indians had lost three in a row, sending them back home with a disappointing 2-4 mark on the road trip.

“We’ve got to get back home and start winning some games, that’s all it means,” Acta said. “We all know that everybody’s going to win 60 and lose 60. It’s what you do with the other 42 that counts. It’s a long season, we’ve just got to keep on playing.”

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