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Twins swept out of Baltimore

By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

BALTIMORE — Last Wednesday, the Twins left Fort Myers, Fla., convinced they had enough offensive firepower to compete with the rest of the American League.

With Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau all healthy, they couldn’t wait to showcase their revitalized lineup at the hitter’s paradise that is Camden Yards before returning to Minnesota for Monday’s home opener against the Angels.

Little did the Twins know they’d spend the season’s first weekend making three unheralded Orioles starters — Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel — look like the second coming of Bobby Cuellar, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer.

The Twins didn’t score a run before the eighth inning in any of the three games. The frustration reached a new level Sunday, when Hammel held them hitless for seven innings. Morneau and Josh Willingham hit back-to-back doubles in the eighth, but the Orioles held on for a 3-1 victory, completing the three-game sweep.

Baltimore outscored Minnesota 15-5 in the series, leaving the Twins 0-3 for the first time since 1981.

“We’ve just got to go home now and try to get some momentum going at home,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s obviously not good.”

It might get worse before it gets better with matchups in the Angels series against C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. After that, the Twins will face the Yu Darvish and the Rangers, followed by the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.

But the Orioles series proved that the names don’t matter. Arrieta, Hunter and Hammel are three righthanders who combined to go 21-25 with a 4.83 ERA last season.

Arrieta pitched one of the best games of his career Friday, harnessing his 93 miles-per-hour fastball and keeping the Twins off balance with a sharp-breaking curve. But scouts felt Hunter was pretty ordinary Saturday. His fastball averaged 88 mph. Of his 98 pitches, the Twins swung and missed twice.

So maybe it was in the Twins’ heads Sunday, or maybe Hammel was just that good.

“(Hammel) threw all his pitches for strikes,” Morneau said. “When a guy is doing that, and his fastball is touching 95 mph, it makes it tough.”

Like Arrieta and Hunter, Hammel was handed an early lead. J.J. Hardy hit a first-inning homer off Anthony Swarzak, and it remained 1-0 until Wilson Betemit added a two-run double off Matt Maloney in the sixth.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter took a chance after the Twins trimmed the lead to 3-1 in the eighth. With Willingham on second base, Hammel walked Sean Burroughs, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate. But Hammel struck out Luke Hughes and got pinch-hitter Chris Parmelee to fly to center field, walking off the field to a loud ovation.

“I haven’t been much better than that,” Hammel said.

Meanwhile, Mauer is 1-for-10, Jamey Carroll is 0-for-11 and Ryan Doumit is 0-for-7.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys, and maybe guys are trying to do a little too much and trying to impress,  trying to get that first one out of the way,” Morneau said. “Once guys start to settle in a little bit … I think we’ll be much better than what we’ve shown so far.”

With the home opener here, Twins fans can only hope.

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