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Updated: June 6th, 2011 8:44pm
Twins Daily: Scrappy fifth inning helps trim Cleveland's division lead

Twins Daily: Scrappy fifth inning helps trim Cleveland's division lead

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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CLEVELAND -- With a 6-4 win at Progressive Field on Monday night, the Minnesota Twins have shaved the Cleveland Indians' advantage in the American League Central from 16½ games to 11½ in just five days.

The skinny

A bloop RBI double, two bunt singles -- one of them a squeeze -- a run scored on a wild pitch, a run scored on a 6-4-3 groundball double play, and Matt Tolbert delivering a two-out, two-RBI single after both runners advanced on a pitch to the backstop.

Just how manager Ron Gardenhire drew it up.

The offensive effort won't be mistaken for a Picasso anytime soon, but the Twins manufactured six runs on 10 hits to put away the Indians in the first of a three-game series.

Starting pitcher Scott Baker pitched seven-plus innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits (two home runs) while striking out five, and the combination of Jose Mijares and Alex Burnett cleaned up the right-hander's mess in the eighth inning before Matt Capps locked down his eighth save of the season.

Turning point

A fifth inning full of small ball provided ample cushion for the Twins.

After Luke Hughes led off the frame with a double down the left field line, Tolbert dropped down a bunt with the intention of moving him over to third base. Tolbert accomplished the task, but also narrowly beat the throw for an infield single.

With men now occupying first and third, Drew Butera then dropped down a safety squeeze -- so perfectly, in fact, that first baseman Matt Laporta had no play by the time he fielded it. Hughes scored from third, giving the Twins a 3-2 lead.

"Drew Butera said he was tired of swinging and missing at the slider, so he decided to push bunt," Gardenhire said. "I like it. If you're going to explain yourself, that's a good way to explain it. I was tired of seeing him miss sliders too. A great bunt, and kind of ad-libbing there. That's perfect, getting a runner over."

Butera added, "It's a good situation for it if I can get the bunt past the pitcher. Gets (Tolbert) over, gets (Hughes) in."

After Ben Revere's single loaded the bases, Alexi Casilla's 4-6-3 groundball double play scored the Twins' fourth run.

Starting pitcher Josh Tomlin then uncorked a wild pitch past Denard Span a few moments later that scored Butera from third, putting the Twins up 5-2.

"We did some of those things, got them in when we had to," Gardenhire said. "Not a lot of big hits, but a good job offensively of getting the runs when we're supposed to."

Numbers game

8: Consecutive games Tolbert has reached base safely in. His two-out, two-RBI single in the second inning tied the game 2-2. "It feels great to contribute a little bit," Tolbert said, "because I haven't been much."

55:
Different batting orders used by the Twins in 59 games this season. The latest version saw Span hit third for the first time since high school, ahead of Revere and Casilla.

12: Home runs allowed by Baker this season after giving up two on Monday night -- a two-run bomb to Asdrubal Cabrera in the first inning and a solo shot to Michael Brantley in the fifth. Those 12 home runs allowed are the sixth-most among all starting pitchers. The home run to Cabrera came before Baker recorded an out, but he settled down to pitch deep into the game. "Baker was really good," Gardenhire said. "Early in the ballgame they jumped him qjick, the first two hitters. But he settled in and gave us a great opportunity to get back in the ballgame, and went deep into the game again to help us out with our bullpen."

3.86: Baker's ERA this season, which is good news considering July, August and September are traditionally and statistically his best months.

5: Games gained in the standings by the Twins over the Indians since Thursday. That's five games in five days.

Overheard

"Just a breather. ... He's been playing every game, not been swinging worth a flip. In Kansas City he was pulling off the ball. So just sit him out, let him catch a break and watch a ball game. We'll probably get him back out there tomorrow. Depends on if he gets Wally Pipped by Hughes."
-- Gardenhire on his explanation for sitting Danny Valencia, who is hitting just .219/.282/.335 on the season.

"I think more consistently, yes. There were times when it was tougher to do. I think it's just a matter of bearing down. The more starts you have, the more experience you have, obviously you're going to be mentally tougher. And you realize that you have to make an adjustment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but you can't sit here and dwell on what happened in previous innings."
-- Baker, when asked whether he has an easier time as a veteran mentally blocking out early home runs like the one given up to Cabrera.

Health report

• Span (neck) and 1B Justin Morneau (wrist) both returned to the lineup on Monday. Per Gardenhire, Morneau's wrist is "not great," but the first baseman will play through any pain for the time being.

• C Joe Mauer (leg weakness, soreness) caught five innings and went 0-for-2 at the plate in a rehab game for Single-A Fort Myers on Monday night.

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken fibula) played six innings at shortstop for Fort Myers in his first rehab game. Per David Dorsey, Nishioka made an error and failed to touch first base on his way for a double.

• RHP Nick Blackburn (back) will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday, and he says he expects to make his scheduled start against Texas on Thursday.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) continues to throw in Florida and "is progressing," according to trainer Dave Pruemer.

• LHP Glen Perkins (strained oblique) threw a light bullpen session on Sunday, played long toss on Monday, and will throw another bullpen on Tuesday back in Minneapolis. The team will then decide whether Perkins needs a rehab stint.

• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow tenderness) has started a throwing program and has moved out to about 150 feet. It's possible he will do some light mound work yet this week.

• DH Jim Thome (quad strain) is visiting with doctors back in Minnesota about his hip and quad. A timetable for his return is currently unknown.

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained foot) has been doing pool work and is "feeling better," per Pruemer.

• LHP Francisco Liriano (shoulder inflammation) is scheduled to start on Tuesday.

On deck

With the series continuing on Tuesday night (6:05 p.m., 1500 ESPN), Liriano (3-5, 5.73) makes his return from shoulder inflammation to face right-hander Carlos Carrasco (4-3, 5.18).

Liriano first complained of shoulder soreness back in February during spring training, and despite batting through bouts of it all season, the left-hander managed to put together a solid month of May, allowing two earned runs or fewer in three of his four starts. This included a no-hitter in Chicago on May 3 and a nine-strikeout performance in Seattle on May 17.

Carrasco has been all over the map for Cleveland, suffering mostly from high pitch counts early in games. The right-hander has completed seven innings only once in 10 starts. To make matters worse, the current crop of Twins hitters owns a .409 on-base percentage against Carrasco, albeit in only 45 plate appearances.

Coming up

• Wednesday: at Cleveland, 11:05 a.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.83) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (5-4, 3.28).
• Thursday: vs. Texas, 7:10 p.m. Blackburn (5-4, 3.57) vs. LHP Derek Holland (5-1, 4.36).
• Friday: vs. Texas, 7:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (3-5, 4.73) vs. LHP C.J. Wilson (6-3, 3.03).

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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