CINCINNATI -- With that Luis Tiant-twist in the middle of his delivery, Johnny Cueto was really impressive Saturday, racking up nine strikeouts in seven innings while holding the Twins to three hits in a 6-0 victory for the Reds.
Cueto is 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA in June, so the Twins can chalk this up to running into a hot pitcher, same as Thursday’s loss against Pittsburgh’s James McDonald.
You knew the Twins weren’t going to get many chances against Cueto. With the game still scoreless in the fourth inning, Joe Mauer hit a two-out double, but Cueto fanned Josh Willingham to end that threat.
Then, with the Reds leading 4-0 in the fifth inning, the Twins got their last chance of the day. Ryan Doumit singled, and Jamey Carroll drew a two-out walk, but up to the plate stepped ... Anthony Swarzak.
Well, there’s a long explanation. The bullpen is exhausted. Brian Duensing started and hit a wall in the fourth inning, so Manager Ron Gardenhire replaced him with Anthony Swarzak.
I know the Twins needed a long outing from Swarzak -- and he delivered, going four innings -- but I wondered if the Twins could have used another reliever to finish the fourth inning, just in case the pitcher’s spot came up in a key spot.
“You’re dreaming, not over-thinking,” Gardenhire said somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “We’ll do the managing, and you should write.”
Gardenhire went on to explain that they were trying not to use several relievers. Jeff Gray, Alex Burnett, Jared Burton and Glen Perkins had all pitched Friday. Matt Capps needed a low-pressure inning, coming off his shoulder injury, but closer's aren't wired to pitch in the fourth. He eventually pitched in the eighth.
Basically, the Twins had Swarzak, Manship and Capps to pitch the rest of the game, unless their offense had sprung to life and made things interesting.
So let’s say the Twins had used Manship to finish the fourth inning, then used Justin Morneau or Chris Parmelee to pinch hit. At that point, they would have had at least four innings left to pitch. If Swarzak hadn’t done what he did, that would have left Capps and a bunch of guys they were hoping not to use in a game like this.
You can’t manage every game like it’s Game 7. Gardenhire has to think about the bigger picture. Swarzak struck out against Cueto, but playing it this way saved some wear and tear on the bullpen.
Instead of taking a desperation shot at winning this one, the Twins are in better position to win more games in coming days. I see that now, and I don't think I'm dreaming.