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Updated: July 4th, 2011 3:38pm
Twins Daily: Brian Duensing baffles Rays for second career shutout

Twins Daily: Brian Duensing baffles Rays for second career shutout

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins lefty Brian Duensing tossed the second complete-game shutout of his career on Monday in a 7-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, throwing a career-high 119 pitches.

The skinny

Even though Duensing got hit hard early on, he induced a couple timely groundball double plays and received help from his defenders before eventually settling in to pitch one of the best games of his career.

"I was really excited with how it turned out," said Duensing, who lowered his ERA to 4.25 -- his lowest mark since May 10. "I didn't start as well as I wanted to, but the defense made some unbelievable plays and kind of kept me in it. And next, you know, we're putting up runs against David Price."

Duensing scattered six hits and four walks while tying a season-high with seven strikeouts, and the majority of those baserunners came in the first four innings. The Rays loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning, had two runners reach base in the second, and three runners reach in the fourth.

"You try not to panic," Duensing said. "It happened so fast. And I was walking too many guys, and that was really frustrating also. But I was able to get out of it. The biggest thing I think for me is not to panic. That's been some issue I think, I try and do too much when things kind of get hairy, and next thing you know I'm leaving balls up. But today was a different story. They hit some balls right at guys, which helped. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

Duensing said pitching coach Rick Anderson came up to him in the third or fourth inning and told him to pick up the pace.

"Not mechanics or anything like that," Duensing said, "but the physical pace of the game in between pitches -- get back on the mound. And once we did that, everything seemed to sort of roll. I got into a rhythm and the ball was fainlly starting to sink a little bit more, and the slider had some good movement on it."

Duensing had thrown 110 pitches already after eight innings, which meant there may have been a question as to whether or not he'd be allowed to finish the shutout.

"(Anderson) came up to me when I went to the water cooler and asked how I'm feeling," Duensing said, "and I said, 'I'm going back out, I feel fine.' He says, 'alright, see ya later.' Then when (Danny) Valencia hit that homer, I saw him get up and get on the phone, and as soon as I gave Danny a high-five I sprinted back to the other end and I was kind of fish-eyeing him from the side a little bit to make sure they weren't coming down to take me out. Fortunately they let me go back out. Usually I thought they would have said that's it. ...

"I was going to fight as hard as I could ... No pushing and shoving or nothing. I tried to go back out in Kansas City that day game with 113 (pitches) after eight, and I was trying to just like scoot by, and they're like, 'No, no, no.'"

Offensively, the Twins posted four runs in the first three innings against lefty Price. Tsuyoshi Nishioka opened the scoring with a two-RBI double, and Michael Cuddyer added a 443-foot solo home run to the upper deck in left field to make it 4-0. Valencia put the game out of reach with a three-run homer in the eighth off right-hander Adam Russell.

After losing six in a row, the Twins have now won five out of six.

Turning point

The Twins received an opportunity to put runs on the board early against Price and Nishioka didn't disappoint.

Valencia roped a lead-off single to start the second inning, and he was joined aboard the bases by Jason Repko, who singled, and Matt Tolbert, who drew a one-out walk.

Batting right-handed against the lefty Price, Nishioka laced a 94-mph fastball over the head of right fielder Matt Joyce and into the corner for a two-RBI double, giving the Twins a 2-0 lead.

Numbers game

2: Career shutouts for Duensing. The other one came on August 14, 2010 against the Oakland A's.

2: The number of times Duensing has completed eight innings or more this season. The last time came on June 5 in Kansas City when Duensing struck out four and allowed only seven baserunners in eight scoreless frames.

6-for-7: Valencia's career numbers against Price. He has also drawn two walks against the lefty. Valencia finished the day 2-for-3 off Price with a double and a single, and 3-for-4 overall with three RBIs. "He's getting a pitch and he's not missing it right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's really clicking on it pretty good. He's taking some real aggressive swings. You'll see him chase every once in a while, but he's clicking on some pitches pretty good."

1: The number of opposite-field extra-base hits for Valencia this season after his double down the right-field line off Price.

Overheard

"I don't think I have that good of stuff, so every time I strike somebody out I feel like it's an accident."
-- Duensing

"It was a curveball. I hung it. Backdoor sliders and hanging curveballs are the two best pitches."
-- Duensing, when asked about the letter-high, 71-mph pitch he used to strike out Johnny Damon.

Health report

• OF Denard Span (concussion) ran sprints in the outfield on Monday as he continues his attempt to string together a series of symptom-free days. As of right now, Span's return is not imminent.

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained left foot) will travel back to Minneapolis from Florida to have his foot re-examined by team doctors. Kubel re-aggravated the injury on Thursday in a rehab game with Single-A Fort Myers and hasn't been able to play since.

• OF Delmon Young (sprained ankle) was scheduled to DH for Triple-A Rochester on Sunday night as he begins a rehab assignment.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) was scheduled to start and throw about 60 pitches for Rochester in the same game.

On deck

In Tuesday's matchup between the Twins and Rays (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN), it'll be All-Star right-hander James Shields (8-5, 2.45) against All-Star snub, righty Scott Baker (6-5, 3.15).

With a 2.12 ERA and 46 strikeouts to only nine walks in his last 51 innings, not only has Baker emerged as the Twins' most valuable starter through the season's first three months, but he also finds himself having the best year of his career. His success can be largely attributed to a combination of health, Target Field, an effective fastball and an increase in strikeouts.

The same can be said for Shields, who thus far has posted career bests in ERA, strikeouts per nine (8.88), home runs per nine (0.91) and WHIP (0.98). He has also been aided by a .256 BABIP against, which is far lower than his .303 career mark, but that doesn't take away from the remarkable season Shields is having so far.

Coming up

• Wednesday: vs. Tampa Bay, 12:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (5-7, 4.76) vs. RHP Wade Davis (7-6, 4.20).
• Thursday: @ Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (5-6, 4.19) vs. RHP Philip Humber (8-4, 2.69).
• Friday: vs. Tampa Bay, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (6-6, 4.02) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (6-8, 4.17).

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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