Two games in, it already feels like deja ew-w-w-w

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2012 - 11:49 PM

With no offense, poor pitching and blunders, these Twins look a lot like the 99-loss edition.

Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano

Photo: Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

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BALTIMORE - During the first 32 hours of the season, the Twins lost two games, made two errors, botched a handful of plays, saw their Opening Day starter fail to throw 90 miles per hour, had perhaps their best starter stop after less than one inning in a rehab outing, scored four runs and were informed that their scheduled Game 3 starter has food poisoning.

Liam Hendriks spent Saturday in the hospital. The rest of us needed only wait until Saturday night to feel similarly nauseated.

Your Minnesota Twins stunk it up Saturday night, and have less time than you might think to keep 2012 from becoming a reprise of their 2011 abomination.

The Orioles represented the smooth stretch of pavement before the Twins started dodging the gaping potholes of the American League. Instead, the O's, who lost 93 games in 2011 and fell to a community college team in spring training, have easily outclassed the Twins in the first two games.

In Friday's opener, Carl Pavano alarmed some members of the Twins' organization by throwing a fastball that didn't always make it to 85 mph, but he at least competed, giving the Twins a chance to rally and put the tying run on base in the ninth.

On Saturday, the Twins sent their most talented pitcher to the mound, a pitcher entering a contract year, and he didn't make it to the fifth inning.

There was a time when Francisco Liriano's teammates called him "Franchise." Maybe that's fitting, given that his franchise has now lost 105 of its past 168 meaningful games.

Liriano allowed eight hits and five earned runs in four innings. He was victimized by poor fielding, but that does not excuse a veteran pitcher failing to maintain a professional delivery.

"He seemed like he was calm," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But then a couple of balls rolled through and you saw a couple of pitches tonight that you didn't see all spring."

Baseball players love downplaying bad games, and bad stretches, but the 2012 Twins have little margin for error, and this weekend you could already see players either pressing or lapsing into bad habits.

Left fielder Josh Willingham made two errors in two innings, botching singles to left field. Third baseman Danny Valencia failed to field a grounder down the line that turned into a cheap double and the key hit in the Orioles' three-run fourth.

The Twins' staff constantly pleads with Valencia to forget about his at-bats when he's in the field. Saturday, he made his fielding mistake in the bottom of the fourth, after hitting into an inning-ending double play with two on in the top of the fourth.

The Twins' lineup, supposedly the strength of the team, flailed weakly against righthander Tommy Hunter.

There were two positive developments for the Twins: Justin Morneau crushed a double to right-center and Jamey Carroll continued to control the middle of the infield. But even the veteran Carroll took a terrible at-bat, swinging at a 2-0 pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth, then grounding to second.

While the Twins' fielding and hitting has been pathetic for two games, their reason for long-term concern is pitching. Pavano lacked velocity on Friday. Liriano was a mess on Saturday. Reliever Anthony Swarzak will be forced to sub for Hendriks on Sunday.

The Twins are waiting on Scott Baker, who has pitched more than 190 innings in a professional season only once in his career, to get a second opinion on his tender elbow. Jason Marquis, the fifth starter, is behind schedule after tending to his ailing daughter.

Hendriks' illness is not a devastating development. It's merely a bad omen for a team that was devastated by injuries in 2011.

"I didn't expect that," General Manager Terry Ryan said with a bemused smile Saturday afternoon.

Maybe Ryan was on assignment in the Appalachian League last year. To anyone who watched the Twins last year, the ailments and ineptitude feel awfully familiar.

"We've got 160 to go," Joe Mauer said.

That sounds like a threat.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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