Twins' key players come up short again

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2011 - 6:33 AM

Carl Pavano and Justin Morneau have avoided the DL this year, but they haven't produced on the field.

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BOSTON - These are desperate times for the Twins, with injuries decimating the lineup, and it's clear they need more than they're getting from veterans Carl Pavano and Justin Morneau.

Pavano got rocked again in Sunday's 9-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and Morneau went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, extending his season-long slump.

At 12-20, the Twins have wide-ranging problems with their offense, defense and pitching, but pulling themselves out of this rut will require several individual comeback stories.

Eventually, Delmon Young, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jim Thome and Joe Mauer will return from the disabled list. But if Pavano, Morneau and others don't improve, it might be too late.

"It's my job to pick guys up when times get tough, and I'm not doing that," said Pavano, the Opening Day starter who now sits 2-4 with a 6.54 ERA.

Morneau is batting .202 with one home run and nine RBI. He is 4-for-30 on this nine-game road trip, which concludes Monday night against the Red Sox.

"It doesn't look like he's covering the plate right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's something he and [hitting coach Joe Vavra] can work on. [Morneau's] frustrated. No one wants to do better."

Gardenhire harped on the team's defense again after the latest loss. The Twins had their first three-error game since June 10, 2010, and missed two other plays that don't show up in the boxscore.

Boston scored four runs to take a 5-3 lead in the third inning, but Gardenhire thought the defense could have made two plays to decrease the damage: Jacoby Ellsbury's hit bounced off shortstop Trevor Plouffe's glove, and second baseman Alexi Casilla failed to turn a double play three batters later.

"It's so hard to gauge what a pitcher does when you miss plays," Gardenhire said. "You can throw it on the pitcher: 'Well he didn't get us out of it.' Well, there comes a time when we've gotta make plays behind these guys, and then you won't see four more hitters going to the plate."

Still, Pavano isn't helping himself either.

In his past two starts, including a 10-3 drubbing at Kansas City on May 1, Pavano has given up 14 runs on 22 hits with zero strikeouts -- yes, zero -- in 10 1/3 innings.

Going deeper, Pavano has made 179 pitches in those two starts, and hitters have swung and missed only seven times. The 34-year-old has seen his rate of strikeouts per nine innings drop from 6.6 to 4.8 to 3.6 over the past three seasons.

"I don't remember the last time I didn't have any strikeouts two starts in a row," Pavano said.

That's because it's never happened. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Pavano has registered zero strikeouts in only seven of his 247 major league starts.

"I feel like my stuff was good today," Pavano said. "My fastball was a little short, but that'll get better as the year goes on and I get a little more consistent."

Pavano's fastball averaged 88.5 miles per hour Sunday, according to the PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net. That is down about 1.6 miles per hour from last season, according to FanGraphs.com.

But as Pavano said, "I've won games with a lot worse stuff than I had my last two starts."

Strikeouts aren't everything. Pavano won 18 games last year, and four came with only one strikeout.

"I'm just not getting the job done, so everything's magnified right now," Pavano said.

And the closer people look, the less hope there seems for a team-wide turnaround.

Joe Christensen • jchristensen@startribune.com

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