Updated: September 20th, 2010 11:33pm
Mackey: Gardenhire pleased with Duensing's sixth-inning grit

Mackey: Gardenhire pleased with Duensing's sixth-inning grit

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- It wasn't exactly a masterpiece, but Brian Duensing's gritty, six-inning performance in a 9-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night was good enough, and it showed that he won't easily fold under pressure.

A good sign as the Minnesota Twins gear up for October baseball.

With the Twins leading 4-1, Duensing (10-2, 2.19) gave up a single to Shin-Soo Choo and a double to Shelley Duncan to start the inning, and after Jayson Nix struck out, Matt LaPorta drew a walk to load the bases.

This certainly wasn't the first time Duensing has run into sticky situations on the mound in 2010. As a reliever, he was inserted into several high leverage situations late in games, and as a starter he ran into dicey spots against the Indians on August 8, against the Rangers on August 25, and even against the White Sox in his last outing.

"He was misfiring," manager Ron Gardenhire said about Duensing in the sixth. "He got some balls up, got some balls out over the plate, but he's a tough kid. He didn't back away from anything... (Pitching coach Rick Anderson) and I were sitting there waiting. We had a couple guys (ready in the bullpen). We just really wanted him to get out of it himself more than anything else, and hopefully leave us with a lead."

The bullpen began picking up the pace after Andy Marte and Drew Sutton added back-to-back RBI singles, cutting the lead to 4-3.

"When it got to 4-3, he was one hitter away from getting out of it and one hitter away from being taken out of it," Gardenhire said. "So you have to bow your neck, as you say, old-school baseball, and that's what he did."

Sure enough, with the bases still loaded, Duensing reached back and fanned Lou Marson, then induced Michael Brantley to line out to Danny Valencia at third base to end the inning, preserving the Twins' lead.

"I was relieved that I got out of the inning the way I did, with the lead still, but I also was disappointed because I wasn't really pitching that well," said Duensing, who shouted into his glove after Valencia caught the lineout. "I was walking guys, and a whole bunch of frustration came out right then. Of course, then you come out and the offense puts up all those runs, and it kind of makes you feel a little bit better about the outing too."

The Twins posted a four-spot in the bottom of the sixth and eventually won the game, 9-3.

Afterwards, Duensing -- who now has held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts -- said he actually felt fantastic heading into the first inning, which, as odd as it sounds, might have been part of the problem.

"When I feel good I get a little too excited, a little jumpy, and kind of get a little bit out of whack," Duensing said. "A couple times I have to tell myself to slow down, and when I started slowing down I made a little bit better pitches. The ball was down a little more. My changeup was terrible today. Usually it's my go-to pitch.

"It's disappointing, because usually you think when you feel good, your stuff's going to be good. The better I feel, the worse it gets. So I think I'm better off feeling terrible, and knowing I'm going to have to battle and focus, as opposed to feel like I have good stuff and kind of losing focus."

Whatever works.

Even though Duensing felt slightly deflated after battling himself all night, the end result -- particularly in the sixth inning -- was a pleasant sight as the Twins gear up their starting rotation for the playoffs.

And if the playoffs began today, Duensing would almost certainly be the Twins' number three starter. He might even start at Yankee Stadium, if things shake out a certain way.

No, he wasn't exactly dealing with the heart of the New York Yankees batting order on Monday night. But Duensing manned up and found away to finish six solid innings without his best stuff. 

"That's important for him in that situation, to be able to battle through that," Gardenhire said. "But he did a really good job. He made the pitches when he had to."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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