Twins Daily: Baker strikes out 10, Valencia homers in win over Padres
MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Baker turned in the latest stellar outing by the Minnesota Twins' rotation, and Danny Valencia's early home run held up in a 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Target Field.
Baker grinded through eight shutout innings, allowing only five baserunners (four hits, one walk) and striking out 10 for the third time in his career.
"They're a free swinging team," Baker said of the Padres, who have fanned a big league-high 594 times this season, "and you have to take advantage of their aggressiveness."
Baker had thrown 104 pitches when he went back to the mound for the eighth inning and 111 when manager Ron Gardenhire came to the mound with one out and a runner on second. He stayed in the game and needed only four pitches to get Chris Denorfia and Jason Bartlett on groundouts, ending the inning and drawing a standing ovation from the crowd of 40,225.
Matt Capps worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save in as many days, getting Brad Hawpe on a flyout to left field to end it, and the Twins (30-39) wrapped up their fifth straight series win, improving to 13-2 since June 2.
"We're playing loose," Baker said. "We're having fun, and regardless of whether we're winning ballgames or not, you have to play like that. You cannot be uptight (or) you're going to make mental mistake, you're going to play scared, you're going to be defensive, and that's never a good idea."
Baker's performance lowered Twins starters' earned-run average to 1.96 in June -- the best in baseball, as are their 19 walks in 102 1/3 innings -- and the right-hander's 10 strikeouts were a season high for the group.
"He has some deception and he got them to chase a couple of balls out of the zone," Gardenhire said. "That's that deceiving fastball that rises a little bit at times, and then I thought he had a nice breaking ball, he was spinning it at times, and a decent changeup, too. He located the ball a lot better, and he gets people to chase. "
San Diego righty Tim Stauffer turned in a solid outing of his own, allowing six hits and striking out five in seven-plus innings. But he made one big mistake, leaving a slider over the plate that Valencia lined out to left-center field with two outs in the second inning.
"It was nice to get that one and it held up, which is great," said Valencia, who hadn't homered in 90 plate appearances before going deep off Padres lefty Clayton Richard on Friday night.
"Being able to come up with a hit like that that actually helps you win the game, especially with the way we're going right now, it's huge."
After losing Friday's series opener, the Padres (30-42) had a chance to grab momentum immediately on Saturday, when Denorfia led off the game with a triple to right-center field punctuated by a belly-flop slide that brought the San Diego dugout to life.
But Bartlett and Chase Headley both struck out swinging and Ryan Ludwick's rope to left-center died in Ben Revere's glove on the warning track, getting Baker out of the early jam.
"I didn't make a good two-strike pitch" to Denorfia, said Baker, who didn't allow another extra-base hit in the game.
"It is what it is if they hit a sac fly or whatever, it just comes down to executing pitches. I was able to strike the next couple of guys out, and once you get two outs, it opens it up a little bit for you."
2: Percentage points by which the Twins trail the Kansas City Royals (31-40) for fourth place in the American League Central Division.
8: Games by which the Twins trail the first-place Cleveland Indians (38-31).
23.6: Percent of batters (88 of 373) Baker has struck out this season.
415: Strikeouts this season by Twins hitters, the fewest in baseball.
33: Pitches thrown over the past three days by Capps, who previously hadn't pitched since June 8. "Physically, I felt as good (Saturday) as I did (Friday)," Capps said. "Legs a little tired, a little wobbly, but that's kind of to be expected after a couple of days." The Twins most likely would use LHP Glen Perkins, who wasn't available on Saturday, if there's another save situation on Sunday, Gardenhire said.
0: Hits for Twins C Joe Mauer in his second game back from the disabled list. He lined out in the first inning, grounded out with two men on in the third, grounded out again in the sixth and walked in the eighth. Gardenhire said he's "not positive" Mauer will be in Sunday's starting lineup. "I'll have to check with him in the morning and see where he's at," Gardenhire said. "If he is in the starting lineup, it would be as the DH."
63-32: The Twins' interleague record since 2006. Only Boston (66-28) and Detroit (64-30) were better entering Saturday.
0: Replays of Revere's sensational catch on Friday night -- third-base umpire Bob Davidson incorrectly ruled it a trap -- that Gardenhire watched. "I haven't looked at it. I refuse to," Gardenhire said, smiling. "I thought it was a catch when he caught it. So, no reason for me to (look again). But how can you get the catch of the day on ESPN if it's not a catch?"
• Valencia left the game in the eighth inning with an apparent muscle strain in his throwing arm. Gardenhire said he's day-to-day, but Valencia said he intends to come ready to play on Sunday.
• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow tenderness) worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning in his first rehabilitation outing at Triple-A Rochester, throwing 12 pitches and striking out two.
• 1B Justin Morneau (sore left wrist) was seen running on the warning track with strength and conditioning coach Perry Castellano about 3½ hours before the game. He's scheduled to be in a cast for at least another six days or so.
• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) was scheduled through a bullpen session on Sunday. If that goes well, he could begin facing hitters.
"You (expletives), you can say wassup!"
-- Injured Padres 2B Orlando Hudson, after none of his former Twins teammates acknowledged his surprise entry into their clubhouse.
The Twins look for their first three-game series sweep and first set of back-to-back series sweeps this season on Sunday (1:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities). They've swept five series this season, but four were in two-game series (Cleveland, Oakland and Chicago twice) and the other was a four-game series at Kansas City. They've only won one of 11 three-game series all season.
The Padres will start 29-year-old right-hander Dustin Moseley (2-6 3.16 ERA), who is in his first National League season after four years with the Angels and one with the Yankees. In his first six starts this season, Moseley posted a 1.63 ERA, allowing seven earned runs in 38 2/3 innings, and opposing hitters were batting .223/.270/.309. In his last seven starts, Moseley has yet to pitch past the seventh inning while giving up 20 earned runs in 38 1/3 innings (4.70 ERA) and hitters are batting .299/.355/.459. Moseley has only faced one current Twins player, Michael Cuddyer, who has three hits in four plate appearances with two doubles and one RBI.
The Twins will counter with left-hander Francisco Liriano (4-6, 4.67), who is coming off a brilliant start against the Rangers in which he tied a season high with nine strikeouts and flirted with a perfect game. Since his abysmal start (9.13 ERA over five starts), Liriano has allowed only eight runs in 38 innings (1.89 ERA) and struck out 32 while holding opponents to .135/.243/.206 batting, dating to his no-hitter at Chicago on May 3.
• Monday: Off.
• Tuesday: at San Francisco, 9:15 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (4-5, 4.20) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (3-8, 3.21).
• Wednesday: at San Francisco, 9:15 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.16) vs. RHP Ryan Vogelsong (4-1, 1.92).
Albert Maruggi contributed.