The secret, Ron Gardenhire said, is serenity. So chalk up the Twins’ 3-1 victory Thursday to the zen of Sam Deduno.
The Dominican righthander dominated Kansas City in the Twins’ return to Target Field, inducing more feeble grounders up the first base line than hits allowed. Deduno fooled the Royals with sliders, blew them away with four-seamers, and controlled the game for seven strong innings.
And when the pressure was greatest, when one out, one pitch, might decide whether the Twins’ losing streak grows to three, Deduno remained as peaceful as the humid, breeze-free night that he pitched in.
“He’s able to calm himself down on the mound,” Gardenhire said of the 29-year-old starter, “and control the strike zone a lot more than he used to.”
That’s not always easy, considering how much Deduno’s pitches tend to dive and hop as they approach the plate. But when back-to-back singles in the seventh threatened to spoil his six innings of three-hit pitching, when his 2-1 lead was at stake with runners on first and third and one out, Deduno appeared totally serene. And entirely dangerous.
“He reached back, right there,” said first baseman Justin Morneau. “I think it was probably the three hardest pitches of the day.”
Facing David Lough, he threw three nearly identical pitches. Each was a 92 mph fastball, each caught the edge of the plate but no more than that, and each dived a couple of inches as it approached Lough, who swung futilely at all three, then trudged back to the Royals dugout.
“He’s a guy who’s just trying to put the ball in play, to make sure he gets the guy in from third. And he isn’t able to,” Morneau marveled. Deduno “has so much movement, [Lough] swings over the top. It’s good to be able to strike out a guy when you need to, and that was a situation where he needed one.”
Deduno — who owns a 1.71 ERA in three starts at Target Field this season and an 0.93 ERA in three career starts against the Royals — finished off the only real threat he faced by getting Elliot Johnson to tap to short. The Twins added an insurance run moments later, and Jared Burton and Glen Perkins finished off their fourth consecutive home victory.
“That was a huge sequence of pitches,” Gardenhire said of Lough’s strikeout. The Twins were hoping for a double-play ball in that situation, but considered it unlikely, making Deduno’s clutch pitching even more crucial. “That kid’s not a strikeout guy [and] he’s also a guy that’s really tough to double up. So that was a big strikeout. Huge.”
Almost as big, in fact, as the Twins’ breakthrough fourth inning, which staked Deduno to two runs — all that he would need. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie retired all nine hitters the first time through the Twins’ order, but Clete Thomas’ soft grounder up the middle broke the spell.
“We said Clete needs to hit a little blooper or dribbler to get us going right here, and then he hits it off the end of the bat, sneaks it up the middle,” Morneau said. “I don’t know if it got [Guthrie] off his rhythm a little bit,” but the Twins added three more hits in the inning, with Morneau’s double and Oswaldo Arcia’s single driving in runs.