MINNEAPOLIS — Josh Willingham has struck out in 10 of his past 18 plate appearances. Ron Gardenhire isn’t worried.
Twins hitters struck out 16 times Saturday and didn’t draw a single walk. It’s not high on Gardenhire’s list of concerns.
The one thing the manager can’t get off his mind right now is the state of his starting pitching, which put the Twins in an hole early and in the middle of their 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Carl Pavano had his team down 2-0 in the first inning. The Twins tied it in the second, but Pavano was knocked out in the fifth from a combination of blows all over soggy Target Field. The Twins never recovered, losing their fourth in a row.
“Again, too many innings by our bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get deeper in the game.
“It sounds like a broken record.”
It is, and it could be, Gardy. Thanks for the double entendre.
With nearly two months gone in the season, Twins starters are on pace to be the worst in club history. Their starting ERA of 6.60 — the worst mark in the majors by just over a run — would be their highest ever. So would their opponents’ batting average of .321.
Pavano (2-4), who gave up six runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings, faltered on the same day Francisco Liriano and his 8.47 ERA were re-inserted back into the rotation. In almost two months, the Twins have cycled through everything they have at Class AAA Rochester and now are going back to what got them in trouble in the first place, which doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the season.
The starting rotations on the 1995 (6.11 ERA) and 1994 (5.84) Twins rank 1-2 in highest single-season ERA in club history. That was when Jim Deshaies and Pat Mahomes were in the rotation. That was when Eddie Guardado, Mike Trombley and LaTroy Hawkins were young and ineffective starters, before they became quality relievers.
Those were rocky times.
You can feel bad for Pavano, who is pitching through shoulder problems but didn’t get it done Saturday. His 87-mile-per-hour fastballs have to be spot-on, and they weren’t in the fifth inning. Detroit went single, single, single, double, single, single, scoring four runs to take a 6-2 lead and chase Pavano from the game.
“I’m feeling better, but that’s no excuse,” said Pavano, who was given an extra day to rest his shoulder after making his previous start May 19 at Milwaukee. “I’m in a position where I have to make better pitches regardless of what I’m dealing with physically. I know I can pitch better and I need to do that.
“This was a game that they needed me to step up and shut them down and keep the bullpen out of it as long as we could — considering how much we have used them the last couple of games — and I didn’t do that and I’m disappointed about that.”
If the Twins could get just a few more quality starts. Their offense isn’t shabby. Justin Morneau and Denard Span hit homers off Max Scherzer (4-3), and Ben Revere had three hits. But the Twins have lost five games this season in which they have scored at least six runs.
Liriano who will start Wednesday, has to pitch like his career is on the line — which it is. Nick Blackburn has to be the ground ball machine that he can be once he gets off the disabled list. Sunday’s start is big for P.J. Walters, who will be facing the Tigers for the second time in a week and a half. Scott Diamond also has to prove he can stay ahead of advance scouting reports.
If their starters continue to give up 6½ runs a game, they will steamroll through 90 losses and have unstoppable momentum toward triple digits. And they won’t have injuries to use as an excuse this time.