By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
While the recently completed home-stand couldn’t have started much worse for the Twins – with a sweep at the hands of the Royals, which last happened in 1998 – it was salvaged by a sweep of the Houston Astros.
And a big part of that sweep was the play of second baseman Brian Dozier along with the performance of the Twins’ bullpen.
Certainly no victory parades will be thrown over defeating the team with the worst record in baseball. But when a team is seemingly headed towards its third consecutive sub-.500 season, you take small victories when and where you can.
Start with Friday night’s 13-inning affair. There’s no question that the Twins have struggled to score runs as of late (averaging just 3.5 runs per game over their last seven), mostly due to a failure to hit with runners in scoring position. But starting Friday night, Brian Dozier bulldozed his way through Houston pitching, most especially with runners in scoring position.
He went 3-for-7 Friday night and 2-for-3 with RISP. He scored a game-tying run in the 8th inning, and then after Houston regained the lead in the top of the 9th, he hit a game-tying RBI single in the bottom-half. Not satisfied with merely tying games, Dozier came through in the clutch again in the 13th plating Clete Thomas with a game-winning RBI single.
But Dozier’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without the bullpen making them hold up.
True, Glen Perkins blew a save opportunity in the 9th. But Jared Burton, Caleb Theilbar, Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke all pitched scoreless innings in relief to give the Twins a chance to win. And Ryan Pressly pitched two nearly flawless innings in the 12th & 13th to pick up his third Win of the season.
Fast-forward to Saturday evening. Again, a Twins starter failed to go deep into the game. This time rookie Kyle Gibson was unable to make it past the 3rd inning and the bullpen had to spring into action again.
Enter Anthony Swarzak – one of only two Twins hurlers to not make an appearance the night before. He befuddled the Astros for three straight innings, striking out five Houston hitters before turning the ball over to Brian Duensing – the other pitcher who didn’t appear Friday night. “Deuce”, as he’s referred to by manager Ron Gardenhire, struck out two more ‘Stros in his inning of work.
He was followed by Casey Fein who struck out a pair in a clean eighth inning, and Glen Perkins who could manage only one measly K (insert sarcasm here) in his 1-2-3 ninth inning.
In total, the bullpen threw six innings of one-hit, scoreless baseball, striking out 10 Houston batters along the way. Nobody’s going to mistake the Houston line-up for Murderer’s Row, but striking out 10 of the 20 batters you face is fairly dominant any way you parse it.
Dozier continued his hot-hitting ways as well, going 2-for-4, including 1-for-2 with RISP. His first hit was a triple to right-center field that looked like a double off the bat to pretty much everybody except Brian. The ball was bobbled slightly by Houston right fielder L.J. Hoes, but Dozier never saw it. He was rounding the second base bag and headed for third with a purpose, sliding in safely.
His second hit was a game-tying double in the 7th inning, which was soon followed by scoring the go-ahead (and eventual game-winning) run off a Ryan Doumit single.
Dozier was asked to explain his hot-hitting and said, “I think the biggest thing is getting good pitches to hit, all in hitters’ counts pretty much, and that’s what you strive for as a hitter.”
On Sunday, Dozier was held hitless, snapping his career-high 10-game hitting streak. But baseball isn’t all about offense. Instead he did damage with his glove, making a sparkling play in the third inning to rob Astros first baseman Brett Wallace of an infield single. That play was immediately followed by Dozier catching a tough pop up which required him to range into short right center to make the catch falling away from the infield.
Once again, the bullpen was called on to prop up a starter who couldn’t work deep into the game. Mike Pelfrey managed only 5 innings of 2-run baseball before he had to exit the game due to an inflated pitch count, but the ‘pen made it hold up.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said, “Our bullpen, you know, they were saviors throughout this whole thing [series].”
Roenicke, Theilbar (who ended up getting the win), Burton and Perkins combined for four more scoreless innings, setting the stage for Oswaldo Arcia’s game-winning home run in the 7th. That marked the 31st time this season the Twins bullpen has pitched 3.0-plus scoreless innings in a single game.
Asked after the game if the relievers are feeding off each others’ performances, right-hander Jared Burton said, “Yeah I think it’s an overall confidence thing for us down there. I mean, everybody’s just been pitching well. We’ve been pitching more than we’d like, but they [the coaching staff] take care of us and haven’t over-used anybody.”
Fresh off that success, the Twins head out on the road to face their next opponent, the same Kansas City Royals team that swept them to begin the home-stand.
They’ll do so with a hot-hitting leadoff batter and a very confident bullpen.