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Updated: July 5th, 2011 10:00pm
Twins Daily: Capps yanked early again, but Twins hang on against Rays

Twins Daily: Capps yanked early again, but Twins hang on against Rays

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Baker left early with a strained elbow and Matt Capps ran into trouble once again in the ninth inning, but the Minnesota Twins prevailed anyway on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 3-2 victory at Target Field.

The skinny

After Baker exited early with a right elbow strain, the bullpen combined to hold the Rays at bay for four innings, securing the team's sixth victory in seven games.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a 3-1 ninth-inning lead was a nail-biter for the struggling Capps, who gave up a solo home run to B.J. Upton on the first pitch he threw, and a sharp single to Reid Brignac shortly after. After inducing flyouts from Sean Rodriguez and Sam Fuld, Capps walked Kelly Shoppach on seven pitches, prompting manager Ron Gardenhire to summon lefty Glen Perkins -- a situation similar to what happened against the Brewers on Sunday.

Perkins got Johnny Damon to hit a weak grounder to short to end the game, although replays actually showed Damon beat Tsuyoshi Nishioka's throw.

"It's a terrible feeling having to go take him out of the game," Gardenhire said about Capps. "I said that last time, and it's not fun for a manager to go take him out. We're trying to win ballgames, he understands that, and he'll be the first to tell you that, he'll be accountable for it.

"Fans have a right to do whatever they want to do. They come here, they root this team on, they cheer for this team. We have great fans here, and they have a right to boo if they want to. But they'll be cheering him again, he'll get going again, and they'll be cheering him again. Right now, they're booing a performance, not the person."

Prior to leaving, Baker allowed only one run (zero earned) on three hits while striking out three and walking one.

Offensively, the Twins scored one run in the first inning on an RBI groundout by Michael Cuddyer, and two runs in the third inning when Cuddyer's bloop single scored two after an error by right fielder Matt Joyce.

"A good ballgame for us off another really good pitcher," Gardenhire said. "We've faced over the last few days (Zack) Greinke, (David) Price and Shields. That's pretty good pitching we're facing, and to win these ballgames is pretty damn good."

Turning point

The Twins blew a chance in the first inning to post a crooked number when they played only one after having runners in scoring position with nobody out, but that crooked number arrived in the third inning with some help from Joyce's aforementioned defensive gaffe.

With two outs and runners on first and second, Cuddyer poked a flare that fell in front of right-fielder Joyce, who whiffed while trying to field it. The ball rolled past him, allowing both Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla.

Revere certainly would have scored from second without the gaffe, but Casilla's run put the Twins up 3-0.

Numbers game

2: Consecutive saves for Perkins.

10: Baserunners allowed by Capps in his last three appearances. "Saturday was the only day that I felt stuff-wise was not there," Capps said. "Sunday I felt like I had some pretty good stuff. (Tuesday), you know, like I said, other than the pitch to Upton on the first pitch of the inning, I felt like I was throwing the ball down in the zone... If the check swing (by Shoppach, which would have been strike three) goes the other way we're not talking about it. And I think if I throw a 3-2 fastball I probably have a better chance at not walking him there and you know even giving him an option."

4: Consecutive scoreless innings for Joe Nathan after hurling a scoreless eighth inning. Nathan is consistently throwing his fastball 93 mph for the first time all season. "Nathan's feeling pretty good about himself," Gardenhire said. "He actually looked at the lineup card and saw that it was Damon and (Ben) Zobrist leading off, and he didn't think he had any chance of getting in this game. And I think we showed a little confidence. Zobrist has really good numbers against him, so he was really excited that we put him out there, and I think that shows a little confidence from us that he's throwing the ball pretty damn good."

10: Pickoffs for Rays right-hander James Shields this season after he nabbed Alexi Casilla at second base in the first inning and Rene Tosoni at first base in the fourth.

4: The number of multi-strikeout games for Joe Mauer this season after whiffing twice in an 0-for-4 performance Tuesday.

4: The number of multi-strikeout games for Mauer in 2010.

3: Home runs for shortstop Trevor Plouffe in a doubleheader for Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday. Plouffe went 2-for-3 with two home runs, two RBIs and a walk in Game 1 while playing right field, and he went 1-for-1 with a homer and three walks in Game 2, playing first base for the first time in his professional career.

Overheard

"Capps is our closer. Rigth now, obviously he's kind of scuffling along. We're trying to get him through it and it didn't work out today. We'll deal with this in the next couple days. Our big concern is getting Capps right, more so than who's going to finish games. We'll finish games the best we possibly can. Nathan's throwing good, Perk's throwing good. Our big goal here is to get Capps throwing good, because if you don't have Capps throwing good we're going to struggle. That's a big part of our bullpen, and we need Cappy to get going here, and right now he might be holding onto the ball a little too tight. Who knows? You'll have to ask him, but we've go to get him going. That's a huge part of our bullpen."
-- Gardenhire

"Hell, I don't blame 'em, I haven't been very good. I'd boo me too."
-- Capps

Health report

• Baker left with what the team described as a mild right elbow strain. This is particularly concerning considering that Baker -- the team's best starter so far this season -- received two cortisone shots in the same elbow last season.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) took early batting practice on the field for the first time in over a month, and he will travel to Chicago with the team to participate in pre-game workouts over the weekend. After that, Span will head home to Tampa to rest over the All-Star break. Beyond that, there are no set plans, but Span didn't rule out possibly beginning a rehab assignment shortly after the break if all goes well. "Gotta see where I'm at," he said. "Take it day to day, which is appropriate. But I think it's about that time where we rev it up a little bit and see where I'm at. Push myself and if I respond well, then we can talk at the All-Star break about me getting back." Span added that he hasn't gone more than a day-and-a-half without feeling light-headed or fogginess.

• OF Jason Kubel returned to Minnesota and received an MRI Tuesday on the sprained left foot he re-aggravated in Fort Myers last week. Results showed "nothing new," per Kubel, "just aggravated the joints in there ... I don't know why it's taking so long." Kubel hopes to join Triple-A Rochester after the All-Star break to continue his rehab assignment.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) threw 56 pitches over 2 2/3 innings for Rochester on Tuesday, allowing two earned runs on four hits while striking out two.

• OF Delmon Young (sprained ankle) went 2-for-7 with a home run and two RBIs as designated hitter in a Triple-A doubleheader on Tuesday.

• 1B Justin Morneau (neck surgery) said Tuesday that he is "feeling better every day" after undergoing neck surgery last week, and he hopes to return before the end of August.

On deck

The Twins look for their seventh series sweep of the year and seventh win throughout their current home stand tomorrow (12:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities) against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Taking the mound for the Twins will be Francisco Liriano (5-7, 4.76), who has allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of his last nine starts. Liriano saw the Rays earlier this season, giving up seven earned runs on six hits in three innings while walking four. B.J. Upton owns a particularly good batting line against Liriano (.385/.467/.538) with five hits in 13 at bats.

The Rays will counter with right-hander Wade Davis (5-7, 4.20), who in an 8-2 win earlier this season at Target Field pitched 6 2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits. Davis struggled at the beginning of the season also, posting a 4.52 ERA in April and May with 29 walks to 31 strikeouts. Davis has settled down recently, however, posting a 3.55 ERA over his last 33 innings, walking just six while striking out 15. Twins hitters have hit well against the righty with a collective .309/.350/.582 batting line. Facing Davis could fair especially well for Jim Thome's quest for 600 career home runs, as he two hits -- both home runs against the righty.

Coming up

• Thursday: @ Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (5-6, 4.19) vs. RHP Philip Humber (8-4, 2.69).
• Friday: @ Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (6-6, 4.02) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (6-8, 4.17).
• Saturday: @ Chicago White Sox, 3:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (6-7, 4.25) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (6-5, 3.66).

Albert Maruggi contributed to this report.

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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