Inside Pitch: Twins Staying Optimistic

Punto's return should jumpstart Twins.

Even as the Twins continue to lose ground in the AL Central, they are keeping a sense of optimism. The team thinks they have found a Major League starter in Scott Baker, and with injuries all over the place, Nick Punto's return is a good sign. Joe Nathan and Johan Santana both made it to the All-Star Game and Michael Cuddyer looks ready to return to the team.

Despite losing two of three to the AL West-leading Angels, the Twins say they feel they played better in those three games than they did during a 5-1 homestand against last place teams Kansas City and Tampa Bay last week.

That's leading to great optimism in closing out the final four games before the all-star break strong, considering they play at Kansas City again against a team they're 7-1 against this year.

"I think we've got to be pleased with the way we played (in the series)," C Mike Redmond said. "When you go up against first-place teams you kind of see where you're at. We're right there, man. We're a break away from winning all three of these games."

The Twins not only hope to use the series as a way to gain ground on first-place Chicago in the AL Central standings but also as a way to continue their improvement offensively after averaging more than 10 hits in the three games (32 total) and scoring seven and six runs in two of them.


  • The Twins didn't find victory Tuesday night in Anaheim, but they might have found another big-league starting pitcher in their organization.

    And although there's no place for RHP Scott Baker in the Twins' rotation right now, he pitched well enough in his major league starting debut Tuesday against the Angels to suggest they might have the luxury of making room for him via a trade -- possibly of $2.4 million RHP Kyle Lohse.

    Baker, who filled in for the ailing RHP Brad Radke on Tuesday in Anaheim, was charged with the 2-1 loss but impressed manager Ron Gardenhire in his five innings of work -- which included holding the Angels' 2 through 5 batters hitless.

    "We think we have a quality major leaguer ready to go, ready to pitch in the major leagues, and he kind of proved that theory again tonight."

    Baker, whose only big-league experience before Tuesday was one inning of scoreless relief in May, likely is headed back to the minors at the end of next week when 3B Michael Cuddyer returns from the disabled list. He was recalled from Class AAA Rochester over the weekend to fill in for Radke, who had his scheduled start pushed back to Friday because of neck pain.

    "We've already been told that (he can help now)," Gardenhire said. "He's a guy who's kind of stuck in AAA right now. Sometimes you can get a little stale down there. He's been throwing the ball good down there. He's one of those guys who probably would do a little better up here. But right now we've got five starters here."

  • Even as infield reinforcements arrived over the weekend, another went down and was added to the disabled list. And the Twins headed toward the All-Star break still undermanned in the infield.The biggest addition was 2B Nick Punto's return Sunday after a month recovering from a pulled hamstring.

    The Twins were 31-21 and 3 1/2 games out of first place when Punto was hurt. They went 13-13 without him and dropped to 9 1/2 games back. They won Sunday in his return.

    But as the Twins got stronger in the middle of the diamond -- also getting back SS Juan Castro late in the week after he suffered through 2 1/2 days of dizziness (likely caused by a virus) -- they lost 3B Michael Cuddyer to a badly bruised hand.

    Cuddyer, who was hit on the left hand by a pitch Wednesday, was expected to be ready to play by the middle of this week, but the Twins didn't think they could afford to play short-handed in an already injury-ravaged infield as they tried to close the first half strong and close ground on first-place Chicago.Cuddyer became the fifth infielder to go on the DL since June 1.

    "There's no chance, no way, no how I want to go on the DL," Cuddyer said. "That's what it comes down to. But at the same time, you don't want to put your team in a bind, either."

  • RHP Brad Radke, who had his regularly scheduled start backed up to Friday because of several weeks of persistent neck pain, threw a bullpen session Tuesday, appeared healthy and avoided a DL move the team had contemplated.

  • The Twins' 21 outfield assists this season, which led the American League after CF Torii Hunter threw out a runner at the plate Monday, tied their total for all of last season.

  • The Twins announced Monday the signing of fifth-round draft pick SS Steven Tolleson, from the University of South Carolina. He's been assigned to low-Class A Elizabethton. The Twins have signed 16 of their 54 picks, including 13 of their top 14 selections.

  • RF Jacque Jones' home run Monday was his 10th of the season but first since June 10, also in Southern California (at Dodger Stadium).

  • For the first time in his 3 1/2 years as Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire gave up his DH in a sequence of pinch-running and pinch-hitting moves late in Friday's game against Tampa Bay, a sign of how short his bench has become with injuries. Because 3B Michael Cuddyer's bruised hand left the Twins with only four bench players Friday, and C Mike Redmond needed to be preserved as the only backup catcher on the bench, Gardenhire had only two choices (short of clogging the basepaths) when lumbering DH Matt LeCroy reached on a one-out single in the seventh trailing by two: use his only infielder on the bench, light-hitting IF Brent Abernathy, as a pinch runner or use his better pinch-hitter, OF Lew Ford, to pinch run and lose Ford's services later in the game. Abernathy ran, and the DH was lost two batters later when OF Mike Ryan pinch-hit for 2B Luis Rivas (Abernathy was forced to take Rivas' place in the field after the half inning). For all that trouble, Ryan grounded into an inning-ending double play, and the Twins didn't score in the inning.

  • RHP Joe Nathan on the Twins getting more than one All-Star selection for the first time in three years: "We really felt like we got the short end of the stick (last year). We won three division titles in a row and weren't getting the recognition we deserve. It's not like we got so many more this year, but it's more than one."

  • LHP Johan Santana on his first All-Star selection: "It's an honor, but I still have one more game (Wednesday) to go before the All-Star Game. I'm definitely thinking about Anaheim more than I am Detroit."

    BY THE NUMBERS:1 -- Twins elected to the starting lineup for the All-Star game since CF Kirby Puckett's last appearance, in 1995 (CF Torii Hunter in 2002).

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I got no chance, man." -- CF Torii Hunter, smiling, on going against Yankees SS Derek Jeter and OF Hideki Matsui on the last-chance All-Star ballot.

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