Notebook: Finally healthy, Scott Baker keeps going long, delivering
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Baker has been so solid over the past 2½ months, it's easy to forget how he scuffled from the second half of last season all the way through April.
It all started last July, when Baker reported tendinitis in his throwing elbow and had the first of two cortisone shots. The 29-year-old right-hander had another in early September, was left out of the postseason rotation and underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips and spurs in October.
In February, Baker had a setback in his recovery. He wasn't named a starter until late March and got knocked around in his first two regular-season starts, walking six and allowing eight earned runs in 11 innings (6.55 ERA) over two losses.
Then began the steady turnaround that was on display again Wednesday, when Baker struck out nine in 7 1/3 shutout innings of a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I felt like it took a little longer than I anticipated to get back to just being yourself," said Baker, who lowered his ERA to 3.15, best of the Twins' starters.
"But I feel great now, and that's a blessing and it just allows you to free your mind and just worry about pitching, instead of trying to stay healthy the entire season."
Since those first two starts, Baker has struck out 92 in 94 2/3 innings, allowing 29 earned runs (2.76 ERA), 25 walks and 79 hits for a 1.10 WHIP. His pitch counts suggest he and the Twins coaching staff are willing to push his arm more than last season, too.
In 10 of his past 13 starts, Baker has thrown at least 106 pitches -- a plateau he reached nine times in 2009 but only once in 29 outings last season. He has averaged 108.4 pitches in his past seven outings, completing at least seven innings in five of them, and threw a career-high 119 pitches on Wednesday, 87 of them strikes.
"I would have liked to have been a little more efficient (Wednesday)," Baker said. "Sometimes, you want those guys to put it in play early in the count. But it just comes down to making good two-strike pitches. Sometimes, it's elevated fastballs. Sometimes, it's taking balls in the dirt. It's just a matter of executing."
Six of Baker's nine strikeouts on Wednesday came against the Dodgers' top four hitters, who finished a combined 1-for-12 against him. All nine were swinging strikeouts.
"He's confident and he's attacking," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't think he worries about too much out there. He just goes and attacks."
Baker's peripheral numbers suggest he isn't pitching much differently than in years past. His fastball is averaging around 91 mph. He's inducing ground balls (35.6% entering Wednesday) and fly balls (44.2%) at his usual rate. His strikeouts per nine innings (8.42) are up slightly, but so are his walks (2.56 per nine innings).
But Baker is pitching with confidence, and that was tough to do when he was worried about his arm.
"When you know that there's something in there that needs to be fixed, obviously, that can hinder your delivery a little bit," Baker said. "But it's just a matter of trusting and allowing it to happen. Everybody goes at their own pace."
Baker's numbers could have him in consideration for what is expected to be the Twins' only spot on the American League All-Star team.
But Baker shook his head at the suggestion, pointed to pitching numbers throughout baseball and threw his support behind one of his teammates.
"I don't know, man," Baker said. "You see what's going around the league -- it's definitely the year of the pitcher. You see some pitchers just having some dominant years.
"Obviously, who doesn't want to make an All-Star team? But if there is one guy on our team this year, (it is) Michael Cuddyer. I hope it's him, honestly. He definitely deserves it."
Shocked by the walk
Ben Revere peered into the Dodgers' dugout as he walked to the plate in the seventh inning, expecting to see manager Don Mattingly wave in a left-handed reliever to starter Rubby De La Rosa.
Instead, with a runner on second base and two outs, Mattingly signaled for an intentional walk to put Revere aboard and pitch to Tsuyoshi Nishioka instead.
"I was shocked," Revere said. "Actually, I got up there, I thought they were going to bring in a lefty, so I was just kind of waiting for it. I kind of looked in the dugout, seen Mattingly come up. Man, he (shows) four fingers. I was like, 'Is he real serious?' ... It was crazy. Usually, that does not happen to me right now."
Mattingly's gambit worked. Nishioka swung at the first pitch, grounded weakly to shortstop Dee Gordon and face-planted as he crossed first base a step late.
If only the Dodgers could have done the same in the first inning, when Revere led off with a triple to right-center field that set up the game's only run.
Revere said there was no chance he could have tried for an inside-the-park home run, since he'd had trouble getting loose before the game. Plus, he couldn't help but think of teammate Denard Span, who remains on the disabled list with a concussion and whiplash from a collision at home plate while trying to complete his own homer earlier this month at Kansas City.
"I think the same thing would have happened to me right there, because my legs were already done," Revere said. "I was out of gas. I'm like, 'I'll just take (the triple). I just want to stay.'"