Updated: July 2nd, 2013 3:29pm
Zulgad: Scott Diamond makes his case for remaining in Twins' rotation

Zulgad: Scott Diamond makes his case for remaining in Twins' rotation

by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Diamond gave the question a moment of thought before answering Monday night in the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse.

Did the lefthander take any extra motivation to the mound knowing that his team is about to have six starters ready to pitch in a rotation that only calls for five?

"No, I knew what I needed to do," Diamond said. "That was to work down in the zone. I was just trying to keep it simple. It seems like for the past couple outings everything has really been speeding up and I've been over thinking and questioning. (Monday), it was just about staying calm and working one pitch at a time."

Diamond spoke after the bullpen had given up seven combined runs in the eighth and ninth innings in the Twins' 10-4 loss to the New York Yankees. He couldn't have been pleased about that - his record remained at 5-7, although his ERA went from 5.40 to 5.18 -- but Diamond did have to be happy about the fact he appeared to pitch well enough to hold onto his spot in the rotation.

Diamond went 6.2 innings, giving up three runs (two earned), seven hits and a walk. He struck out five.

The Twins entered this series with Mike Pelfrey (back) nearing his return from the disabled list and rookie Kyle Gibson now occupying a spot in the rotation. This means when Pelfrey is reinstated - he gave up two earned runs and struck out six in six innings of a rehab start on Monday at Class A Cedar Rapids -- a starting pitcher will be headed to Triple-A Rochester.

Diamond, who proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Twins in 2012 by going 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA, appeared to be a candidate for demotion after failing to go more than 5.2 innings in eight of his past nine starts before Monday.

The issue was that things were coming apart for Diamond in the middle innings.

In his previous start on June 26 in Miami, Diamond was given a 3-0 lead after the first inning and held that until the bottom of the fifth when he gave up three runs. Another run was charged to Diamond in the sixth inning and he took the loss in the Marlins' 5-3 win.

"The biggest problem I had when I was in Miami was not finishing batters off," Diamond said. "I'd get ahead of guys 1-2, 0-2 and just wasn't putting guys away. So, that was the focus this past week going into the start. I threw a couple of wild pitches out there but I'd rather throw it in the dirt and miss the strike zone than hang something and pay the price for it."

Monday night marked the first time since June 2 that Diamond had pitched into the seventh inning. Even with his latest effort, he still has an 11.77 ERA in the fifth inning of games and a 12.96 ERA in the sixth.

Things would have been far better if Diamond hadn't served up two fat pitches to Robinson Cano. The Yankees second baseman hit a tape measure shot to center field in the first inning and followed with a two-run blast into the left-field bleachers in the third.

"He did fine, got over the hump, had his breaking ball going," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his starter. "Cano, take him out the lineup, Scottie had a really good night. But Cano's swinging pretty well, we saw that."

Diamond's start means the pressure is now on P.J. Walters (2-4, 6.03 ERA) to rebound after three poor outings in a row. Walters, a righthander, is scheduled to start on Wednesday against Yankees lefthander CC Sabathia.

Walters has given up 16 total runs in starts against Kansas City, Cleveland and Detroit after surrendering seven earned runs in winning three of his first four starts following his recall from Rochester.

A poor outing Wednesday might not just be Walters' last start in a Twins uniform. It could be his last start in the organization because he is out of options.

The lineup the Yankees fielded Monday, and the one Walters will face, doesn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of anyone. There is no Derek Jeter, no Alex Rodriguez, no Mark Teixeira. New York had lost five in a row and scored only 13 runs in that time. The Yankees hadn't reached double digits in a single game since May 10.

But Diamond wasn't looking for style points on Monday, he was simply trying to show he still belonged in the big leagues. Diamond said the key for him was remaining aggressive, keeping the ball down in the zone, something he had struggled to do, and mixing things up on his first pitch.

"I think it's been a couple of steps going forward," Diamond said when asked what has helped him get over the hump. "In Miami, I felt happy with the way that it went even though the results weren't there. Then (Monday I) was just trying to get back down in the zone and attack hitters.

"With the lefties in the lineup for them, I thought it was a good team to do it against. Especially with the way they've been swinging. They've been attacking guys really early. I thought it was a pretty good matchup, so I just tried to take it one pitch at a time, finish hitters and just get the outs when I could." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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