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Disturbing loss for Twins in Baltimore

By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

BALTIMORE — This was supposed to be the softest part of a brutal 42-game, season-opening stretch for the Twins.

Yet here they are, needing a win Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep against an Orioles team with modest hopes again this year.

Friday night’s 4-2 Twins loss was at least competitive, but Saturday night’s 8-2 defeat at Camden Yards was downright disturbing, the kind that can spoil whatever optimism fans have mustered after last year’s 63-99 finish.

“You obviously want to get off on the right foot,” Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. “We were swinging the bats pretty good in spring training, but it hasn’t really carried over.”

And it’s not like the Twins have faced Cy Young candidates, either. Jake Arrieta had a 5.05 ERA last year, but he held the Twins to two hits over seven scoreless innings Friday.

On Saturday, it was more of the same against Tommy Hunter, who had a 4.68 ERA last year. The Twins trailed 8-0 before scoring two unearned runs in the eighth.

As ineffective as Twins starter Francisco Liriano was, this game could have been different had Hunter not wiggled out of a fourth-inning jam. With the Twins trailing 3-0, Justin Morneau doubled, and Hunter hit Josh Willingham with a pitch, putting runners at first and second with no outs.

But Chris Parmelee followed with a head-scratcher of an at-bat, checking his swing and fouling out to third base. Then Danny Valencia ground into a 5-4-3 double play.

“It’s early in the season, and everybody wants to get off to a good start,” Valencia said. “Everybody wants to get that first hit and start a rally. I left a lot of guys on base today, so I killed the rally, really.”

Then, repeating a theme from last year, Valencia appeared to let his offense affect his defense. The next half-inning, with two outs and a runner on first, Ronny Paulino hit a ball down the third-base line. Valencia wasn’t quick to react, and when he slid toward the line, the ball went off his glove for a double.

That opened the door for two runs, as Robert Andino followed with a double down the third-base line.

“(Liriano) kept us in the game,” Valencia said. “We didn’t get any run support for him, and we didn’t make a couple key plays.”

Valencia finished 0-for-4 and grounded into two double plays, but he wasn’t the only one who struggled. Willingham committed two errors in left field, matching his total from all of last season with Oakland.

All the hope Liriano generated during spring training, with his 2.33 ERA and 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, gave way to flashbacks of his 2011 struggles. He struck out the side in the first inning but needed 74 pitches to get through the fourth, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits and two walks.

“They didn’t kill the ball off of him, but he went deep in counts,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been throwing really good; tonight it just didn’t work out.”

Nothing has through two games, and if this seems bad, imagine how it could look over the next six weeks, when Twins opponents include the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers and Brewers. By the time this 42-game stretch ends, the final 120 might be irrelevant.

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