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Updated: May 28th, 2010 11:20pm
Mackey: Kevin Slowey ends fifth-inning futility streak

Mackey: Kevin Slowey ends fifth-inning futility streak

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- After a stimulating three-game series against the Yankees, Friday night's 2-1 victory over the Rangers seemed fairly anti-climactic, especially considering the eventual game-winning run came across when Joe Mauer grounded into a bases-loaded double play.

The story of the night, mundane as it may be, is Kevin Slowey pitching beyond six innings for only the second time in 10 starts this season.

"I thought he did a good job tonight," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "A lot of courage against a very good hitting baseball team."

Slowey left the game in the seventh inning with a huge mess to clean up. With runners on first and second, he quickly pulled ahead 0-2 on C Max Ramirez, but wound up walking him a few pitches later. Ball three and ball four were fastballs just off the outside corner, which could be an example of what Gardenhire meant before the game when he said, "I think (Slowey) is trying to make the perfect pitch a few too many times."

In any event, with the bases loaded and two outs, LHP Jose Mijares came in and induced a groundball fielder's choice by Nelson Cruz. Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch then mopped up the rest of the game.

This was the first time Slowey had seen the seventh inning since April 14, when he threw eight marvelous innings against the Indians, allowing only one earned run and five base runners.

It's also worth noting Slowey pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning, throwing only eight pitches. Prior to Friday, 12 of Slowey's 25 earned runs allowed this season came in the fifth frame.

Slowey says he doesn't pay attention to his short outings of the past, insisting that each start stands on its own merits.

"I think it's something that you work on," Slowey said about his "in-the-now"-type mindset. "You work on it in high school, or college, or in the minor leagues. We throw plenty of games to get a chance to forget about bad previous ones and look forward to next ones. It's something that (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and (Gardenhire) are very great about, to remind you that your next start, your next pitch, your next batter is the only one that matters."

With Slowey, the storyline hasn't changed all season. His inability to pitch deep into games has hurt the Twins in multiple ways. First off -- and Gardenhire would probably disagree with this -- Slowey has been relatively ineffective in his previous abbreviated outings, allowing at least three earned runs in six of his eight short starts. Three earned runs in five innings is simply not a good outing.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the bullpen is almost guaranteed to be taxed on the day Slowey is scheduled to pitch.

In fact, heading into Friday, the Twins bullpen had thrown 127 2/3 innings. Ten of those innings came in extra innings, so for the sake of fairness, let's throw those out and say that the bullpen had pitched 117 2/3 innings between the first and ninth innings.

Slowey had started nine times prior to Friday, so let's assume the max innings he could throw over that span is 81 (yes, I know some road games end without the possibility of pitching in the ninth, but let's stick with simple math). Out of a possible 81 innings, Slowey had eaten up only 49 2/3, leaving the bullpen to pick up the rest of that tab -- 31 1/3 innings.

That means 27% of the bullpen's total innings came during games when Slowey started.

Only three starting pitchers in the American League taxed their respective bullpens more than Slowey heading into Friday night: Rich Harden (TEX) - 29%, Brandon Morrow (TOR) - 28%, and Wade Davis (TB) - 27.5%.

The Twins hope Friday night's performance against a solid Rangers lineup will provide momentum for Slowey to continue pitching deeper into ballgames.

"His command has been off (in the past)," Anderson said. "He's strictly a command-type guy.

"He's missing a lot more over the plate than he ever has, and as we talked before, he's been over-thinking, trying to do too much at times. Once you're confident in your delivery and your mechanics as a pitcher, you get confident throwing your pitches, and I think tonight showed he got his confidence back."

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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