Twins Daily: Scott Baker shuts down a powerful Rangers offense
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The combination of a lights-out performance by Scott Baker and an early offensive barrage by a lineup of non-regulars was enough to propel the Minnesota Twins to an 8-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday at Target Field.
Baker turned in possibly his most dominating performances of the year, allowing only one earned run on five hits in nine innings, walking none and striking out seven against a Rangers offense that ranks among the best in baseball.
Baker threw 112 pitches and lowered his season ERA to 3.55 with the effort.
"There's a handful of games in the season that you feel really good mechanically, you have a good game plan, and you execute pitches," Baker said. "Rene (Rivera, the starting catcher) did an excellent job back there staying with me."
Baker had help as well. Less than 24 hours after the Rangers put away the Twins with a seven-run second inning on Friday night, the Twins returned the favor on Saturday by scoring five runs in the first inning off starter Colby Lewis.
The Twins bounced Lewis after just 1 1/3 innings, pounding out six runs on seven hits and two walks against the right-hander.
Despite fielding a lineup that consisted of only three opening-day regulars, the Twins offense put 14 men on base and had four hitters -- Ben Revere, Alexi Casilla, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young -- each collect at least two hits. Young finished 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Casilla finished 3-for-4 with a double, two runs and a stolen base.
The Twins punched Lewis in the mouth right after the opening bell, and he was never able to recover.
Michael Cuddyer drove Revere home with a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0, and Casilla scored shortly after on a wild pitch. Following walks by Rene Tosoni and Danny Valencia, Brian Dinkelman delivered a two-RBI single to put the Twins up 4-0.
Matt Tolbert delivered the inning's final blow with a run-scoring single to right field.
"I think we all saw a little bit of an ambush there early in the game, guys running around and flipping the ball, putting the ball in the right spots," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was a nice big inning for us and then Bake did the rest."
4: Career complete games for Baker.
80: The number of strikes thrown by Baker in 112 pitches. "Well, a five-run lead makes it a lot easier," he said. "I threw a lot of fastballs. A lot of fastballs down and away. And I think we saw they did hit some balls hard, they just happened to hit it at guys, and that's what you can do when you have a decent lead like that -- attack guys and allow them to put the ball in play." Baker came into Saturday throwing more fastballs (69%) than at any point in his career. "Why change something if it's working? I think right off the bat you come at them with fastballs. If they're making the adjustment and they're jumping on them, then you throw something else. But I'm just trying to get ahead of guys."
725: Career strikeouts for Baker, who moved past Kevin Tapani for sole possession of 10th place on the Twins all-time list.
2: RBIs for Brian Dinkelman, marking the first two runs driven in his major league career. "The first couple games I was a little nervous getting called up, but now I'm getting more comfortable and feeling more relaxed," he said. "When my time is called I hope I can help the team produce."
19: Hits for Casilla in his first 39 games this season.
24: Number of hits Casilla has recorded in the last 18 games, batting .352 in that stretch (25-for-71).
1: Spectacular diving catches for Revere, who snagged a line drive by David Murphy in the third inning with an all-out diving effort in the left-center field gap. "I kind of closed my eyes at the last second," Revere said. "But the ball was hit right on the screws, and I just dove as far as I can and luckily it went in my glove."
• 1B Justin Morneau will be sidelined until at least Tuesday while the Twins consult with a hand specialist to determine if there are any underlying issues with his ailing left wrist. An MRI earlier in the week showed no structural damage, but Morneau has been struggling at the plate and playing through pain.
• C Joe Mauer (leg weakness, general soreness) will remain in Fort Myers until at least midweek to catch two or three more games, beginning Sunday, and to face right-hander Joe Nathan in a live batting practice session.
INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken leg) traveled to Toledo on Saturday to join the Rochester Red Wings. He will likely play three Triple-A games before possibly rejoining the Twins midweek.
• OF Denard Span (whiplash, concussion) said he has talked to Morneau about concussion symptoms and the recovery process, and Morneau told him -- perhaps not surprisingly -- not to rush things. Span rode the exercise bike on Saturday and said he still felt a little "spaced out," but he has progressed over the last couple days.
• LHP Glen Perkins (oblique) pitched a scoreless inning for Triple-A Rochester against Toledo on Saturday, tallying two strikeouts.
• Nathan (elbow tenderness) threw a bullpen session on Saturday and "felt great," according to head athletic trainer Rick McWane, and he will travel to Fort Myers to face live hitters on Monday.
• OF Jason Kubel (strained quad) has been making "good progress," per McWane. Kubel took batting practice on the field Saturday and will continue to ramp up activities. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Wednesday.
• DH Jim Thome felt soreness after receiving an epidural shot in his back on Friday, but McWane said he was able to do all of his back exercises in the weight room on Saturday. Thome is scheduled to resume hitting on Sunday, and he is eligible to come off the disabled list on Thursday.
• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) began throwing long toss up to 150 feet on Saturday, and he was scheduled to throw light off a mound on Sunday.
"I was in the cage, bunting and messing around. I saw the catch on T.V. I ran outside. I knew everybody was looking for me to mess with me. I came out and acted like I didn't see it. I kinda reached into back pocket like I would have caught that standing up. He's getting the opportunity and he's going out there and showing everybody why he should be here."
-- Span, on his reaction to Revere's catch.
"He may steal a couple catches from me. I loved playing right next to that guy during spring training. That's where I learned my game, from him, just watching him last year (when) I was up here in September. Me and him are kind of still learning a little bit by each other ... Guys know they can't hit it to the one gap on our side or it's going to get caught nine out of 10 times."
-- Revere, when asked if he's looking forward to playing every day alongside Span at some point.
"I've been really looking forward to a day like today... I was really excited to get this. It came late, but hey, it's good. I'm here with an elite group.
-- Jim Perry, after becoming the 25th player inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame on Saturday. Perry -- a right-handed pitcher out of North Carolina -- played for the Twins from 1963 to 1972. He won the AL Cy Young award in 1970, posting a 3.04 ERA and throwing 4 complete game shutouts that season.
"I'm just sorry that I missed Killebrew... I thought Harmon would be here. The last time I talked to him he was doing pretty good, but that changed really quick."
-- Perry, referencing his friend and former teammate. Killebrew was first person to greet Perry when he joined the team in 1963. Perry's family lived next-door to Killebrew for seven years.
Left-hander Francisco Liriano returns to the hill on Sunday (1:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN), coming off an impressive return from the disabled list on Tuesday. Liriano (3-6, 5.20 ERA) allowed one unearned run on three hits and struck out seven in five innings of work but received no offensive help as the Twins fell to the Indians 1-0. He is 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in six career outings against Texas. Liriano last faced the Rangers on August 26, 2010 in which he allowed two runs and struck out six in seven innings as the winning pitcher in a 12-7 Twins victory.
The Rangers will start left-hander Matt Harrison (5-5, 3.48 ERA), who is 2-1 in his last three starts with a 1.47 ERA despite dealing with a blister on his left hand and a kidney stone over the last week. The sole loss came on Tuesday as he gave up four runs on eight hits in four innings of work in an 8-1 loss to the Tigers. Harrison is 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA all-time against the Twins since debuting in 2008. Harrison made four relief appearances against the Twins last season but hasn't started against the Twins since July 19, 2008 when he surrendered eight earned runs over five innings in a 14-2 loss.
• Monday: Off.
• Tuesday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.54) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (6-5, 3.89).
• Wednesday: vs. White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (5-4, 3.47) vs. RHP Mark Buehrle (6-4, 3.95).
Nate Sandell and Dan Tracy both contributed to this report.