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Duensing’s solid start wasted as Twins fall

May 25, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the early innings Wednesday, Twins lefty Brian Duensing struggled to get comfortable. Whether it was the cold or the wind, something was not quite right.

After he made a small adjustment with his “rocker step,” Duensing settled in nicely and delivered his best start since April 30. But the Twins’ offense couldn’t figure out Mariners lefty Erik Bedard as they lost, 3-0, Wednesday at Target Field.

Each of the first three hits Duensing allowed, along with a second-inning walk, came back to cost him in the end. After putting Franklin Gutierrez on to lead off the second, Adam Kennedy doubled and Brendan Ryan singled to put Seattle up, 2-0.

Two innings later, Gutierrez led off with a solo home run, his first of the season.

“There was only one that I’d want back, and that was the homer I gave up to Gutierrez, which was a changeup up,” Duensing said. “Other than that, I thought I threw the ball pretty well and walked a couple guys I didn’t really want to walk but at the same time made some good pitches when I needed to.”

Tossing seven innings while giving up three runs on four hits, Duensing kept Minnesota in the ballgame. It was the second consecutive outing of seven or more innings by a Twins starter, keeping the burden off the bullpen.

Duensing went seven innings for the first time in five outings this month after four of his five April starts went seven innings. The three runs he allowed were the fewest for Duensing since May 10.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was especially happy with the way the left-hander was able to finish by striking out Ichiro Suzuki with runners on the corners and two out.

“He wants to be out there, he needs to make a big pitch [and] he did,” Gardenhire said. “That last hitter is as good as they get in the league and it was a good matchup for us. We wanted him to get out of that inning without giving something up and he did.

“That’s important for him on down the road. He came out of it feeling pretty good about himself. Although he got a loss, he knew he found something out there on the mound and he finished that inning off, which was huge.”

But as much as Duensing kept them in the ballgame, the Twins could not get much going at the plate against Bedard, who pitched six shutout innings, scattering six hits with four strikeouts for the win.

At the plate, the Twins had at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings but could not bring any of them around to score. Overall, the Twins went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“[Bedard] was pretty filthy,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes, you tip your hat to the other guy and Bedard’s one of those guys that we’ve had to do that before. He had great stuff today. One of those situations you could see guys swinging and missing balls by a foot, and that’s that breaking ball, that was diving down along with a 92-mph fastball.”

The Twins’ best chance to put runs on the board came in the fifth, when their Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, catcher Drew Butera and second baseman Alexi Casilla, led off with a pair of singles.

But those hits were followed by three consecutive outs from the top of the order.

“That fifth was a big inning,” Bedard said. “We were up, 3-0, and if I give up a hit there, the game gets closer. You just battle out there. Try to keep the ball down and get out of the inning.”

One of those outs looked like it could score a run, though, when Matt Tolbert flew out to right field for the second out of the inning. But with Butera on third and Ichiro’s strong arm in right, it was not deep enough to bring the Twins’ catcher home.

Gardenhire was not sure if Butera could have scored on the play, but said he would have have liked to see him try with the way Bedard was keeping the Twins hitters off balance throughout the game.

“It was kind of more of a respect thing for [Ichiro’s] arm,” Butera said. “I’m not a very fast runner, I know that, and he has probably one of the best arms in the game. And I felt at the time we had one of our hottest hitters coming up. I probably could’ve taken a chance, I probably should’ve taken a chance.”

The top five hitters in the Twins’ lineup combined to go 2-for-20 on the day, with two singles and four strikeouts. None of the Twins’ seven hits went for extra bases as they lost for the fifth time in six games.

With the Indians also losing Wednesday, the Twins remained 14 1/2 games out. While they’ve been playing better of late, the losses continue to come, making it tougher for the Twins to remain positive.

“You obviously pay attention because you want to win. That’s ultimately what this is about,” said designated hitter Jim Thome, who went 1-for-3 with a walk and a single. “It’s always about winning your division and trying to gain ground. Cleveland has played well, so give them credit. So I always look every day and see what Cleveland is doing because I want to gain ground on them.

“You want to try to do the best you can to gain ground but you can’t do it overnight. It takes a long process. … Baseball is a weird thing. I’ve seen crazy things happen.”

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 5/25

May 25, 2011 Comments off

Capps unavailable Wednesday due to sore arm

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins closer Matt Capps was unavailable for a second consecutive game Wednesday due to soreness in his forearm.

Capps pitched Monday against the Mariners, tossing 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits for his fourth blown save of the season. It was the second-highest pitch total of the season for Capps and his sixth outing of more than three outs this year.

“Capps is a no-go. We’re backing off him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re not going to mess with him.”

Capps’ injury will not require an MRI as of yet. The Twins are just being cautious to allow him to rest after a couple tough outings.

While Capps is the Twins’ closer, Gardenhire would prefer not to use him outside of the ninth inning, but the Twins have been forced to bring him in during the eighth for his past two outings.

The results in those appearances have been an 0-1 mark for Capps with a pair of blown saves. He’s allowed five runs on six hits and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

“I know a lot of teams have done that with their closers and everything,” Gardenhire said. “We really like the idea of bringing him in the ninth inning and letting him have a clean inning.”

Twins will hold fundraiser for tornado victims

MINNEAPOLIS — An autograph session will be held before Saturday’s game at Target Field to raise funds for victims of the recent tornadoes, the Twins announced Wednesday.

The session will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT outside Gate 29 on Target Plaza, and all donations will benefit the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. For $10, fans will be able to get a variety of autographs, with a limit of one from each player.

Among the players scheduled to take part in the autograph session are pitchers Matt Capps and Brian Duensing and catcher Drew Butera.

Twins show fight, but drop fifth straight

May 12, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — As he saw Matt Tolbert’s double headed to the gap in right, the only thing on Twins outfielder Ben Revere’s mind was scoring from first base. With his head down, Revere took off, quickly rounding second and then third.

With the relay coming in, Revere slid between the legs of catcher Alex Avila, as the throw from Tigers second baseman Scott Sizemore went wide. Revere was safe, tying the game, but he paid a price for his efforts, taking a hard hit to the chin from Avila’s knee.

“I was running top speed trying to tie this game, and luckily I was able to tie the game at that point,” Revere said. “I really did not know. Some guys said I flipped the catcher over, but I got hit in the chin a little bit. It looked like I got more of the collision than he did, but I did anything I could to sacrifice my body to score that run.”

That hustle and determination from Revere, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 38,938 at Target Field, was a little like the way Wednesday’s game went for the Twins. Every time they worked hard to come back from a deficit, they were knocked back down by the Tigers, who came away with the 9-7 victory for the two-game series sweep.

“Kind of a wild one out there today,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Opportunities lost and we also picked up some big hits and battled our tails off to get back in it. But we didn’t make enough pitches.”

After coming from behind three times to tie the game or take the lead on Wednesday, the Twins were all out of comebacks in the ninth inning.

Entering the inning tied at seven runs apiece, closer Matt Capps surrendered a pair of runs in the final frame, giving the game back to the Tigers yet again.

It was a forgettable outing for Capps, who served up a two-run blast in the eighth to Jhonny Peralta, but still had a chance to pick up the win after the Twins tied it in the bottom half of the inning on Tolbert’s RBI double.

“It was a slider that I left up,” Capps said. “I just left it up over the plate and he hit it.”

According to Peralta, there was a bit of luck involved, too.

“I’m not looking for that pitch,” Peralta said. “I’m looking for a sinker and he threw me a slider right there. I don’t know how I made good contact, but it’s working.”

Peralta’s home run came just after the Twins appeared to have made the comeback needed for a thrilling victory.

Following a one-out RBI double in the seventh that cut the lead to two runs, designated hitter Jason Kubel crushed a 1-1 sinker from Tigers reliever Daniel Schlereth 460 feet into the right field seats for a three-run blast. In their 35th game, it was the Twins’ first three-run home run of the year.

Kubel’s home run was his team-leading fourth of the season, and his four RBIs in the game also put him in the team lead with 20. He added a single and a walk on a 2-for-4 day as the Twins broke out the bats for a couple late rallies that were all for naught.

“It definitely shifted the momentum on our side,” Kubel said of the home run. “But they came right back and put us back down. But we fought back, and then it got away from us again.”

With a thin bullpen, the Twins were hoping for a quality start from right-hander Scott Baker. Instead, Baker delivered a shaky, walk-filled 4 1/3 innings that put his team in a 5-2 hole through five innings.

Baker had been brilliant in his last four starts, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA while averaging seven innings per game. Over that span, Baker racked up 25 strikeouts against only four walks.

He continued to add to his strikeout total on Wednesday, recording six, but walks became a problem again for Baker, just as they have been for the rest of the Twins pitching staff early this season. Baker issued five bases on balls, marking a career high for the right-hander.

“Just a couple mechanical issues where at times mechanically you’re not where you need to be,” Baker said. “That translates to your hand not being where it needs to be which translates to the ball not going where you want it to go.

“Obviously we’re not robots, we’re human beings. So sometimes it’s harder to make that adjustment than others. Today, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that adjustment.”

Baker’s walks were not the only ones that hurt the Twins on the day.

Lefty reliever Jose Mijares walked Brennan Boesch with one out in the eighth, which set up Peralta’s two-run, pinch-hit blast off Capps one batter later. With his team issuing eight walks on the day, Gardenhire was not at all pleased.

“You walk people there at the end of the ballgame, you don’t want to put anybody on base,” Gardenhire said. “That’s not being too fine, that’s just not throwing it over. You’ve got to have courage, too. Courage is throwing the ball over the plate, making them swing the bat and hopefully we’ll catch it. Sometimes you back away and you shy away and that’s not good enough.”

Gardenhire also was unhappy with the missed opportunities in the game offensively. In particular, he could not understand how center fielder Denard Span was unable to score from second base on Luke Hughes’ double in the seventh.

As Gardenhire saw it, Span should have been at least halfway to third on the play, and as the team’s fastest runner, should have scored easily.

Span eventually scored on Kubel’s home run, but it was a mistake that could have cost the Twins had it not been for their designated hitter’s three-run blast. As much as injuries, illnesses and offensive struggles have been an issue for the Twins early this season, fundamental lapses have found their way into the mix as well.

That, Gardenhire says, is something that needs to be fixed for them to start winning games.

“The fundamental stuff and the little stuff we have done so well, these guys have been part of that,” he said. “There are not any guys out there on the field who have not been part of that through Spring Training and part of the season.

“So you can’t tell me you don’t know. You can’t tell me that. It’s just not getting it done.”

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