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Waiting game may have affected Liriano

June 12, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — On average, each half-inning on Sunday at Target Field lasted just under eight minutes. The bottom of the seventh took 29 minutes, 48 seconds.

Whether it played a part in breaking up Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter is up for debate, but it certainly didn’t seem to help.

“It didn’t bother me physically, but I started thinking too much about that no-hitter,” Liriano said after the Twins’ 6-1 win over the Rangers. “I tried to overthrow that inning and was trying to be too perfect. And I then [gave up] a hit when I got behind in the count.”

After an error by third baseman Luke Hughes broke up Liriano’s perfect game in the top of the seventh, the Twins lefty headed to the dugout needing six outs to complete his second no-hitter in 40 days.

Then the Twins’ offense came alive.

Leading off the seventh, Danny Valencia lined a single off the arm of Rangers starter Matt Harrison, knocking him out of the game. After the pitching change delayed the inning, reliever Mark Lowe was not quite as effective or efficient as Harrison had been.

As a result, Liriano sat in the dugout for nearly 30 minutes between pitches.

“It’s tough when you have one big long inning,” Valencia said. “It keeps him in, and it keeps him cooled off for a while. So I’m sure it’s frustrating, but no pitcher is obviously going to get mad about getting run support. At the same time, with what’s on the line for him from a personal standpoint, it’s probably something that’s not ideal in that situation.”

Lowe got Jason Repko to ground out, but an error on shortstop Elvis Andrus put Rene Rivera on first and brought Valencia home from second. Two batters later, Ben Revere struck out, but reached first on a wild pitch.

Alexi Casilla followed with a single to drive in Rivera, and Michael Cuddyer drove a three-run blast into the seats in right, putting the Twins up, 6-1, over the Rangers.

As the rally kept building, did the thought of getting Liriano back on the mound cross Cuddyer’s mind?

“[Heck] no. No, you score as many runs as you can, especially against a team like that,” Cuddyer said. “First and foremost you want to win. Obviously everyone wanted to see a no-hitter, everybody wanted to have that happen, but bottom line is, you want to win the game.”

After Cuddyer’s home run, the Twins kept hitting, though they did not plate anymore runs. Delmon Young and Hughes followed with singles before Valencia finally flied out to center field to get Liriano back on the mound.

When he got back out there, Liriano got to 3-0 on Adrian Beltre before giving up a single. A wild pitch and another single two batters later plated the Rangers’ only run.

“It’s almost like a rain delay there when you’re at 70-something pitches and you have to sit out for 30 minutes,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “We kept telling him he had to get up and move around. And not only did he have 70 pitches, he had a no-hitter, too.

“So we told him to move around, because it was a long inning. So we were worried when he went out there. His first few warmup pitches weren’t pretty. And his first few pitches were rushed out there.”

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 beat 4/13

April 13, 2011 Comments off

Hughes could supplant Casilla on occasion

MINNEAPOLIS — If Alexi Casilla doesn’t start swinging the bat better, Luke Hughes could soon find himself getting a start or two at shortstop.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire talked Wednesday morning about the possibility of using Hughes, who he sees as primarily a second or third baseman, in place of Casilla. It all hinges on Casilla’s approach at the plate.

“I like Alexi’s defense, the way he moved around last night was better, he had more energy,” Gardenhire said. “But if he continues to wave at the ball like he’s doing, I need him to swing, and I told him that again last night, ‘Swing the bat, son.'”

Through 10 games, Casilla has just three hits, good for a .143 batting average with two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI. Casilla has struck out just three times in 21 at-bats, with most of his outs coming on weak ground balls.

In a crucial moment Saturday, Casilla also failed to plate a run with none out and runners on the corners in the fifth inning. Casilla grounded softly back to the pitcher on the play.

“I think he’s trying not to make mistakes or trying not to do things, rather than just going [hard] again,” Gardenhire said. “Last year, that’s what he did, he just went [hard]. When he played he got out there and just had a ball playing. Right now, he looks tentative.”

What makes Casilla’s poor play and apparent tentativeness more intriguing is his play in Spring Training. Throughout the month of March, he looked just the opposite.

The other concern with Casilla is that he occasionally outthinks himself at the plate. With his speed, he can certainly beat out a bunt for a single. At the same time, he can swing the bat well enough to make corner infielders pay for playing in too far while anticipating the bunt.

All Casilla needs to do is pick one or the other and go with it.

“If you’re going to go up there and bunt, drop a bunt,” Gardenhire said. “If you’re trying to draw people in and then hit it by them, they’re already in. They’re already playing you for the bunt, you don’t need to fake bunt and swing.

“Maybe you fake swing and then bunt, but they’re already in, you don’t have to draw them in. Get a pitch and then hit it by them. Those are the things that I think Alexi was doing in spring, trying to hook balls by the first baseman and by the third baseman because they’re playing in.”

Cuddyer finally breaks loose at the plate

MINNEAPOLIS — Going into Tuesday’s series opener, Michael Cuddyer did not feel any different than he did in the nine previous games, but the difference in results was like night and day.

Cuddyer, who was batting .107 entering the game against the Royals, went 4-for-4 for the Twins, singling in each of his first four at-bats before drawing a walk in the 10th inning. That performance boosted his batting average more than 100 points, to .219.

“How do you get 4-for-4 and raise your batting average to .219?” Gardenhire asked. “So you started pretty low, right?”

The four hits for Cuddyer more than doubled his previous season total of three going into Tuesday’s game. Of course, it’s not like those four were the first balls Cuddyer hit well all season.

The only difference was that all four of them fell in safely.

“Baseball’s crazy,” Cuddyer said. “Sometimes they find the grass, sometimes they don’t. Three days ago, I hit a ball up the middle and Delmon [Young] was stealing, the second baseman was on top of the bag. Today, nobody was stealing.

“Those are the little things that make or break hits, especially this early in the season. You hit a few balls hard, line drives, they’re outs, now you’re hitting .100 on the scoreboard. You don’t have any at-bats behind you. It’s not like it’s June or July where there’s 300 at-bats, there’s 28.”

It was still encouraging for one of the Twins’ better hitters to finally get something going at the plate.

Over the last two games, the lineup has looked much improved offensively, collecting 23 hits and plating seven runs. The Twins have talked about staying patient and not panicking, and now, it looks like they’re getting back to normal this week.

“Hits are starting to come,” Gardenhire said. “Balls are starting to fall in and then the pressure goes away of trying to force things.

“It was just about adjustments. Early in the game, we didn’t make very many good adjustments. Cuddy did, he got up on the plate, covered the plate, sat on the changeup and ripped it. But that’s what the game’s all about, making a few adjustments as you see them the first time.”

Frustrated Twins finding fence hard to reach

MINNEAPOLIS — When asked about Jason Kubel’s long single Tuesday night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he didn’t even want to get into it. Before Wednesday’s game, he shared some reactions from the dugout.

Both Kubel’s near home run and left fielder Delmon Young’s long fly out earlier in the game frustrated Twins players as they continued to have trouble hitting the ball out of Target Field.

“Some balls were hit pretty hard,” Gardenhire said. “Delmon said, ‘That’s all I’ve got.'”

Kubel and Young’s long fly balls that stayed in the park were just another example of how big the Twins’ ballpark plays. Of course, the wind Tuesday night did not help.

At game time, the wind was measured at just nine miles per hour, from right field to left, but it was clearly stronger at times, and certainly was blowing in.

“It was blowing around pretty good in there and it was knocking the balls down last night good, more so than most days or nights,” Gardenhire said. “But it was pretty entertaining to watch their reactions, win lose or draw. When Kubel hit that ball, I honestly almost turned away.

“I watched to see whether it was going to be a homer or how high it was going to hit off the wall. Then I look at the baserunner and I see him kind of catch it and I’m like ‘geez,’ because he crushed that ball. You can’t hit it any harder than he hit that one.”

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