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Liriano scuffles as Twins drop finale

July 24, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins starter Francisco Liriano clearly did not have his best stuff on Sunday, and he could not find a way to battle through it.

Liriano was all over the place, walking four batters and throwing two wild pitches, as he lasted just 2 1/3 innings in giving up four earned runs on six hits in the Twins’ 5-2 loss to the Tigers.

“We were trying to get [Liriano] to just throw his fastball over the plate, and he really couldn’t find anything,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He was spinning off the ball. Hopefully, there will be better days ahead for him.”

The loss knocked the Twins back to seven games under .500 and seven games behind the first-place Tigers.

Coming into this 11-day homestand, the Twins had an opportunity to gain some ground on the leaders in the American League Central, with eight of their 12 games coming against the Indians and the Tigers.

“This homestand is not like earth-shattering or anything like that,” Michael Cuddyer said. “We’ve just got to go out and figure out a way to win on the road, starting tomorrow.”

For an inning, Liriano’s performance could have been labeled “effectively wild,” as he stranded two runners in the first without giving up a run. But in the second, the wildness caught up with him, as he spiked two sliders in the dirt.

The first wild pitch allowed Ryan Raburn to advance to second base, and the second bounced out of play, scoring Raburn from third.

“The day started off pretty good in the bullpen,” catcher Joe Mauer said. “Obviously, a little different once we got out there. I tried my best to try to settle him down a little bit. You know how hard he wants to give a good performance for the team, and we just weren’t able to get it done today.”

Liriano’s control continued to elude him in the third inning, and the Tigers consistly worked deep in the count before putting together four consecutive one-out singles to score three runs.

“We were fortunate Liriano didn’t have his command and got his pitches count up,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I thought we did a really good job with him today, being patient.”

Despite notching just seven outs, Liriano threw 78 pitches, 43 for strikes, though just 29 of Liriano’s pitches were actually in the strike zone, according to PitchFX data.

“He’s just trying to do too much with it,” Mauer said. “I think when Frankie gets into trouble, he overthrows a little bit. When he’s nice and relaxed, I keep telling him, his ball moves a lot.

“I know he was frustrated with it, and we’re frustrated with the loss.”

In his previous outing, Liriano had control issues as well, but managed to get through six innings against the Indians with only one run allowed on four hits. He did walk four, hit a batter and throw a wild pitch, though, in that outing.

Liriano now has eight wild pitches on the season, tying him for fifth in the American League.

“He didn’t throw the ball over, it didn’t matter who was up there,” Gardenhire said. “The ball just was not going over the plate. I think at one point he threw a couple of strikes in a row, but I don’t think there were too many times that he did that. That’s a rough outing.”

Gardenhire was forced to call on his bullpen in the third inning, asking relievers to cover 6 2/3 innings, despite having already been overworked on the homestand. They performed as well as could have been expected, giving up just one run on one hit.

Anthony Swarzak allowed a run over 3 1/3 innings, while Chuck James tossed 1 1/3 scoreless frames. Alex Burnett and Matt Capps also tossed scoreless innings to close it out.

Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello effectively shut down the Twins’ offense for six innings, allowing just two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks. Both Twins runs came in the fourth inning, on an RBI groundout by Jim Thome and Delmon Young’s RBI double to left.

The Twins will not have much time to muse over the disappointing loss, as they head to Texas to begin an 10-game road trip against the American League West.

“It would’ve been nice to get a few more wins here at home, but we’ve still got a lot of games to go,” Mauer said. “We’ve got to play better.”

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, 7/24

July 24, 2011 Comments off

Twins happy to see Blyleven honored

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — With the start time of Sunday’s series finale against the Tigers pushed back two hours, the Twins were looking forward to watching Bert Blyleven’s speech during his induction ceremony into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Blyleven, who had his No. 28 retired by the Twins eight days earlier at Target Field, has been in Cooperstown since Wednesday for various Hall of Fame activities. On Sunday, the day finally came for Blyleven — along with Roberto Alomar and Pat Gillick — to be honored at the Hall of Fame.

“It should be really cool,” lefty reliever Glen Perkins, a Minnesota native, said prior to the ceremony. “I remember when [Kirby] Puckett went in and [Paul] Molitor went in. Those were guys that I watched go in, and I never really knew Kirby, but I’ve known Paul pretty well for a while.

“I know Bert as well as I know Paul, so it’s going to be cool to watch him give that speech and see him at the Hall of Fame there. I’m looking forward to watching it.”

The Twins showed Blyleven’s speech on the video board for fans attending Sunday’s game, while Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the players planned to watch it on TV in the clubhouse.

“I wish that we could be there to enjoy it with him,” Michael Cuddyer said. “But it’s been a long time coming, and he deserves it as much as anybody does.”

Given Blyleven’s 16-year career as a Twins broadcaster and his knack for keeping things interesting on the air, his speech is expected to be a good one.

“I can’t wait to listen; it ought to be really entertaining, knowing all the stories that he has,” Gardenhire said Sunday morning. “There’s got to be something good in there. I’d like to listen to it in here; I’m interested in what he has to say. It’ll be fun stories, knowing Bert.”

Baker feeling fine after first start off DL

MINNEAPOLIS — While he had no issues throwing 82 pitches in five innings on Saturday night, the important thing for Twins right-hander Scott Baker was how he felt the next day.

Before Sunday’s series finale with the Tigers, Baker said he felt great.

“I kind of had an idea that I was going to feel OK, because once I was done, I just felt like I got a good workout,” Baker said. “As far as a hurting type of soreness, I don’t have anything like that. I haven’t played catch yet, but I feel like everything should be fine.”

In making his first start since July 5, Baker went in with a limit of 75-80 pitches. After finishing the fourth with 72 pitches, Baker went back out for the fifth and tossed 10 more before leaving the game, having allowed just three hits.

Baker said he expected to be able to increase his pitch count in his next outing.

“I’ll leave that up to them,” Baker said. “But I’d like at least get to the 100-pitch mark next time.”

Span plays back-to-back rehab games

MINNEAPOLIS — Center fielder Denard Span played seven innings for Triple-A Rochester in a rehab game on Sunday after also playing seven innings on Saturday.

Span went 0-for-4 on Sunday in the Red Wings’ 3-0 loss. Through six rehab games, after being on the shelf since early June with a concussion, Span has three hits in 20 at-bats with Rochester. All three hits were singles, and Span has also stolen a base.

“Everything seems to be going along just fine,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who watched Denard play on Saturday night. “He’s feeling good.”

While a return to the Twins seems likely to come soon for Span, it will not happen until he plays full games in center field on consecutive nights. Gardenhire has also talked recently about getting Span going at the plate before his return.

“He’s still playing seven innings,” Gardenhire said. “The talk is trying to get him to where [he’s] playing nine innings, probably four or five days in a row. Then we’ll see where we’re at. He’s getting close to being able to do that.”

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

Baker, bullpen solid as Twins top Tigers

July 23, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — After watching his teammates drop the first two games of the series, right-hander Scott Baker wanted to do all he could on Saturday to help the Twins get a win. The only thing standing in his way was a 75-80 pitch limit.

Baker squeezed a solid five innings out of his 82 pitches, and the Twins managed, with the help of four relievers, to secure a 4-1 victory over the Tigers at Target Field. With the win, the Twins pulled to within six games of the first-place Tigers.

The Twins will now have an opportunity with a win on Sunday to get back to where they were when the series began, sitting five games back in the American League Central.

“They’re obviously in front of us, and they’re one of the teams that we have to beat,” Baker said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We can compete with those guys, we know that.”

The Twins would have liked to have gotten more than five innings from Baker, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was happy to get the win.

“Honestly, we started getting a guy up in the fourth, at one point,” Gardenhire said. “We just didn’t want him to extend out too awful much. We’re still trying to feel our way through and see how he’s doing.”

After finishing the fourth inning with 72 pitches, Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson asked Baker how he was feeling.

Baker told them he could go another inning, and he got out of the fifth having faced just three batters.

“Today, given the situation, even with the pitch count, I didn’t want to give in to these guys,” Baker said. “They’re a good hitting lineup, and whether I threw three innings or five innings or six innings or whatever, I didn’t want to throw it over the plate and allow them to get something going.”

Thanks to Baker’s outing and a solid offensive performance, the Twins beat the Tigers for the first time since Sept. 1, 2010, snapping an 11-game losing streak against their AL Central rivals.

Baker blanked Detroit on three hits and a walk in his first start since July 5, a game which left with right elbow soreness. After giving up a pair of singles in the first, Baker cruised through the fifth, facing just one over the minimum with five strikeouts.

“[Baker] is very good at getting you out on high fastballs,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “He’s got late life to it, he’s sneaky on top and he gets you to chase the ball just out of the strike zone. We were probably a little over-aggressive. He pitched a very good game coming back.”

But with Baker only going five innings, it marked the fifth consecutive game in which the bullpen was needed for three innings or more.

Anthony Swarzak, Phil Dumatrait, Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan combined to finish out the last four innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk. Nathan pitched the ninth for his seventh save, moving him within one save of tying Rick Aguilera for the Twins’ all-time saves record.

“Swarzy came in and did what he had to do; that’s a tough lineup over there with a lot of veteran hitters who shoot the ball all over the place,” Gardenhire said. “Duma came in and got the first-pitch double-play ball, which was huge in that inning, and got through it.

“You give the ball to Perk, and what can you say? He got in a little jam there, but goodness, he’s throwing the ball so well. Then Nathan finishes it off.”

First baseman Miguel Cabrera drove in the Tigers’ only run with a double in the sixth off Swarzak, scoring Brennan Boesch from second.

Through the first two games of the series, the Twins’ offense had been shut down by Tigers right-handers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but they finally put some hits together against Brad Penny.

Penny went seven innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

Michael Cuddyer drove in Ben Revere with a single in the first, and Danny Valencia led off the second inning with his 12th home run, a shot into the second deck in left field. The Twins then added two more in the fourth, as Delmon Young drove in Jason Kubel and Valencia with a double to the gap in right.

“These are games where we can catch back up, so we really needed to come out and win today, so we have a chance tomorrow [to] come out and win and be five back,” Young said. “You don’t want to get back down to nine or anything and try to make it up in the second half. You still want to get to Sept. 1 to have a chance to make a run for it.”

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

Valencia’s go-ahead hit spurs Twins

July 20, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to hitting with the bases loaded, Danny Valencia is well aware of the success he’s had in his career. Rather than let the pressure of the situation get to him, Valencia has shown a flair for the dramatic in his career, coming up with big hits in those moments.

Valencia did it on Tuesday night with a walk-off single, and he did it again on Wednesday with another go-ahead single as the Twins rode a three-run eighth to a 7-5 victory over the Indians. With the win, the Twins got back to five games under .500 and five games behind the Indians, right where they were when the series began.

After losing both games of Monday’s doubleheader, the Twins looked to be on the verge of falling back into a big hole in the American League Central. Instead, they split the series with the Indians and will look to gain ground with a big series starting on Thursday against the first-place Tigers.

The Twins have yet to beat the Tigers this season. And the last time that they were in Detroit, the Twins left at their lowest point, with a 17-37 record, 16 1/2 games out of first.

“It wasn’t fun leaving Detroit and flying wherever we went to next after that,” Valencia said. “But a lot’s changed since then, our team’s really clicked a little bit, we’re playing good baseball and I still don’t think we’re playing our best baseball.

“Eventually when we do click on all cylinders like we can, I think we’re going to be a really, really tough team to beat.”

With his single, Valencia improved to 10-for-18 with 22 RBIs in his career with the bases loaded. He also has 21 RBIs this season in the seventh inning or later, a category in which he ranked sixth in the American League entering the game.

After falling behind 1-2, Valencia got just enough of a fastball from Vinnie Pestano, slapping a soft liner to right field that just got over the glove of Orlando Cabrera at second base.

“It’s fun,” Valencia said. “You know what’s on the line and it makes you kind of relax a little bit, even though it’s hard to really believe that. You don’t try to do too much in those situations. One run, like I’ve always said, is enough. Anything else after that is a bonus. Being able today to get another hit with the bases loaded is just huge.”

Alexi Casilla scored easily from third, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled home a pair of runs two batters later for some breathing room.

Nishioka’s hit proved crucial in the ninth, when Twins closer Joe Nathan surrendered a one-out homer to Lonnie Chisenhall.

“Today was about Nishioka, I think,” Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “If Nishioka doesn’t get that hit, we’re still out there playing.”

Casilla, who scored the go-ahead run, celebrated his 27th birthday — and said he was getting ‘old’ after the game — by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, the second of which sparked the Twins’ big eighth inning.

Leading off the eighth, Casilla drove an 0-1 changeup from Pestano into the gap in left. The ball fell between Indians left fielder Luis Valbuena and center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double.

The bounce over the wall was a tough break for the Twins and Casilla, who would have had at least a triple if the ball remained in play.

“I thought it was a homer,” Casilla said. “I thought it hit the glove and got over. I thought it was gone. And then I look, and they were on the ball, and I said, “Oh my god.'”

For the Indians, the play was another crucial situation that could have gone differently if they weren’t playing Valbuena — an infielder — in left field.

In addition to Casilla’s double that could have been caught for an out, Valbuena also had the two biggest hits of Tuesday’s game fall in front of him.

“If you have an everyday outfielder, I’m sure that it probably could have been caught,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “We know what we’re dealing with. Luis is playing out of position. He played a lot of left field at Triple-A, but it’s a different ballgame up here.”

But the Indians were not the only ones that made crucial mistakes in the game on defense.

Twins starter Nick Blackburn pitched well, but a few mistakes — by him as well as the Twins’ defense — allowed the Indians to push four runs across against the right-hander. Only one of the four was earned, and Blackburn allowed just four hits and two walks, while striking out seven.

The Indians plated three runs in the fourth, two of which were unearned as center fielder Ben Revere dropped a long fly ball. In the sixth, Cleveland added another unearned run as Travis Hafner scored on a passed ball.

“There were a couple things that happened behind me, but we still ended up winning the game,” Blackburn said. “That’s all we need right now. All the wins, especially against teams that are ahead of us, is what’s important. I’ll take that outing every time.”

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

Still ill, Gardy leaves game against Tribe

July 20, 2011 Comments off

Still ill, Gardy leaves game against Tribe

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is still battling an illness, and left Wednesday’s 7-5 win over the Indians during the game, according to bench coach Scott Ullger, who served as manager in his absence.

“He might’ve stayed a couple innings, but then he went to the doctors,” Ullger said. “He wasn’t feeling well.

Before the game, Gardenhire said that he added another medication to the ones that he’s already taking.

Gardenhire joined the team on the field for early batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, and he admitted before Wednesday’s series finale that it probably was not the best decision.

“I screwed up yesterday by going out for that early batting practice and trying to run around a little bit,” he said. “I hadn’t been out in a while and that really set me back, because I was coughing all through the game and it was not fun.”

The illness, which Gardenhire referred to last week as a viral infection in his esophagus, has forced the Twins to play most of the homestand with Gardenhire watching from his office. He even had to leave the ballpark early one night to go home and get some rest.

Gardenhire said that it gets worse as the day goes on.

“I wake up in the morning and feel better; I’ve got some nice cough medicine that knocks me out,” Gardenhire said. “But as the day goes, I just have a really hard time breathing. But yeah, they’re trying some more aggressive stuff, if that can be possible with that bag of drugs over there.”

Twins notebook, 7/19

July 19, 2011 Comments off

Gardy: No roster move until at least Thursday

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said it would be until Thursday at the earliest before the club makes a roster move to get another position player back.

After bringing up an extra pitcher to help get through Monday’s doubleheader, the Twins will play through at least the next two games with a short bench offensively. Before their series opener with Detroit on Thursday, the Twins could call up an outfielder.

Which outfielder they call up will likely depend on if Jason Kubel is ready to return from the disabled list, where he has been since early June with a sprained left foot.

“I think Thursday would be the first day that [Rene] Tosoni would be eligible,” Gardenhire said. “If it looks like Kubes needs to stay a little longer, we could maybe change it out.”

If he were available now, Tosoni would likely have been recalled on Monday following the doubleheader. But after being optioned on July 10, he has to spend 10 days with Triple-A Rochester, making Tosoni eligible to return on Thursday.

Matt Tolbert, who was optioned to make room for the extra pitcher, will also not be eligible to return until after at least 10 days with the Red Wings.

While Kubel is the preferred option this week, Gardenhire said he would not rush either Kubel or Denard Span back from rehabbing in Rochester. Through two rehab games, Kubel is 1-for-8 with four strikeouts, and Span is 0-for-6 with a strikeout.

“I’d sure like to see [Kubel] swinging better than he is now,” Gardenhire said. “They don’t have return flights, I know that. So, we’ll do the best we can. We’ve got to get [Kubel and Span] swinging, though.”

Injured Twins at various stages of recovery

MINNEAPOLIS — Right-hander Scott Baker’s bullpen session is scheduled for Wednesday, and the Twins will decide on the next step for him based on how it goes.

Twins head trainer Rick McWane said Baker “felt great” throwing long toss on Tuesday.

“After he throws his bullpen, we’ll make a decision on if he needs to go on a rehab,” McWane said.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled for another rehab start on Wednesday in Rochester, with no pitch limit.

Outfielders Jason Kubel and Denard Span continued to rehab at Triple-A as well, with both scheduled to start on Tuesday night. Kubel was set to DH for nine innings, while Span was expected to play seven innings in center field.

Through two rehab games entering Tuesday, Kubel was hitting 1-for-8 with a double and four strikeouts, while Span was 0-for-6 with a strikeout.

Twins’ bats come up short in nightcap

July 18, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — It was a long day on Monday for Scott Diamond. But that did not stop the Twins’ left-hander from enjoying it.

Diamond gave the Twins just about all they could have asked for on Monday night in his Major League debut. Unfortunately for Diamond and the Twins, the offense could not get anything going in a 6-3 loss to the Indians in the nightcap of a doubleheader.

“It’s been a fun experience, and I really had some fun with these guys today,” Diamond said. “I thought it was pretty good. I was able to challenge a lot of hitters and keep them off balance for the most part. I gave up a couple big hits, but for the most part I’m pretty satisfied with it.”

Pitching for the first time in 12 days, Diamond went 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits, with a strikeout and two walks. He held the Indians without a hit for the first two innings, and kept them off the scoreboard until the fifth.

When he exited in the seventh, Diamond got a huge ovation from the crowd at Target Field.

“It was unbelievable,” Diamond said. “It’s what every kid dreams of, especially being my Major League debut, it was really exciting. It’s awesome to have that kind of crowd here.”

Before he let Diamond walk back to the dugout, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made sure to tell Diamond to take in the moment.

“I said, ‘You did a heck of a job, enjoy this. These people are going to be cheering for you when you walk off. You’ll never forget this moment,'” Gardenhire said.

It would have come as no surprise if Diamond showed some nerves early in the game, with it being his big league debut.

But Diamond said the nerves subsided once he warmed up in the bullpen, and he looked very comfortable, as he retired the first six batters he faced with five groundouts and a flyout.

“I thought he was great. I know he had some nerves running. We’ve all been there,” said Twins catcher Joe Mauer. “I was impressed with him throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. He threw the ball well, and some good pitches, but they had a couple balls off the bat and things like that. But that’s what good teams do to win. I thought he pitched great.”

After the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the third on an RBI single by Mauer, the Indians answered with a pair of two-out runs in the fifth, as they strung together a double, a walk and two singles.

Mauer went 3-for-4 in the game, matching his 3-for-4 performance in the first game of the doubleheader. The six-hit day improved his batting average thirty points, raising it to .290.

“I was just trying to keep it simple and not do too much,” Mauer said. “On days like this, with the heat and things like that, you get a little more fatigued and you maybe stay within yourself a little bit. It was good to get a couple hits and get on base, but I’d rather take some wins.”

Right-hander Fausto Carmona picked up his fifth win of the season for the Indians, as he pitched for the first time since July 2, after going on the disabled list with a strained right quad.

Carmona gave up just two runs on seven hits, with a strikeout and a hit batter to secure his first win since June 15.

The Twins lost consecutive games for the first time since losing six in a row from June 22-27. They also dropped back to seven games behind the first-place Indians.

“From now on, just about every series against our division is important for them and for us,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We know that those guys are in it, and they’re going to be in it. The title runs through Minnesota. They’ve been the best team in our division over the past few years, and they won it last year.”

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