By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
CINCINNATI — The Minnesota Twins are giving closer Matt Capps more time to heal from his recent shoulder injury — whether he wants it or not — as their other relievers continue to show they can win games without him.
Not that it’s been easy.
On Friday night, manager Ron Gardenhire handed another big load to his bullpen after using Joe Mauer to pinch hit for starting pitcher Nick Blackburn in the sixth inning. Mauer walked, helping set-up the go-ahead rally, but the Twins still needed 12 outs in relief against the National League Central-leading Reds.
Alex Burnett got five of those outs after inheriting a bases-loaded mess in the sixth inning, and Glen Perkins escaped another serious jam in the ninth, as the Twins held on for a 5-4 victory at Great American Ballpark.
Right fielder Ben Revere and catcher Ryan Doumit paced the offense with four hits apiece as the Twins won for only the fourth time in 11 games.
Capps hasn’t pitched since June 15, when he gave up a tiebreaking two-run homer to Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. The righthander, who is 1-4 with a 3.55 ERA and 14-for-15 in save opportunities, came in the next day with soreness in his right shoulder.
“They’re just telling me to give him as many days as I possibly can without throwing, and we’re trying really hard,” Gardenhire said. “Capps is getting flustered. I know he wants to get in the ballgame, but I’ve got other people telling me — my pitching coach saying — as many days as we can get him without throwing, the better off we’re going to be with his arm.”
Capps politely declined comment after the game, not wanting to upset the mood in a joyous clubhouse.
“We’re looking to get him back,” Perkins said. “We need all the help we can get down there. We’ve thrown a lot. We’ve all had our little times when we needed a break. I had one (in April), and he’s having one right now and hopefully he’ll come back strong and help us out.”
Perkins earned a save on Wednesday in Pittsburgh and another Friday, giving him four for his career.
The Reds made this one especially tense, getting two hits to put runners at the corners with one out in the ninth.
“A situation like that, everybody’s anxiety’s up a little bit,” Doumit said. “You just try to go out and make light of the moment, try to calm everybody down. I’m as nervous as the pitcher, but you try to keep it fun, and (Perkins) showed great composure.”
The lefthander struck out Reds leadoff man Zack Cozart with a 96-miles-per-hour fastball, then whiffed Chris Heisey with an 85-mph slider to end the game with 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto waiting on deck.
Perkins averages 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest on the team and more than double Capps’ mark of 5.3, so it seemed like the Twins had the right guy on the mound to escape the jam.
Three innings earlier, Burnett relieved Jeff Gray with the bases loaded, and caught Devin Mesoraco looking at strike three for a huge second out before pinch hitter Todd Frazier flied out to end the inning. Burnett then pitched a perfect seventh and Jared Burton did the same in the eighth.
Asked if the bullpen has a certain swagger these days, Burnett said: “That’s a perfect word — swagger. I think our bullpen is very confident in being able to do our jobs, and it helps that we’ve been doing it pretty well.”