CINCINNATI - The Twins went 4-1 in their first five interleague games, raising hope that this part of the schedule could help return them to respectability.
But they will play their final game against a National League foe Sunday, and not much has changed, aside from their ever-evolving starting rotation.
The Reds thoroughly outclassed the Twins on Saturday, winning 6-0 at Great American Ballpark, as Johnny Cueto showed why he has been one of the majors' best pitchers the past two years.
Cueto (9-3) gave up only three hits and one walk and racked up nine strikeouts in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.21.
The Twins are now 8-9 in interleague play, but they were somewhat encouraged by Brian Duensing's first start of the season, as he tossed three shutout innings before giving up four runs in the fourth.
In 30 relief appearances, Duensing hadn't thrown more than three innings or 45 pitches. Sure enough, he was at 44 pitches entering the fourth inning Saturday.
"It was kind of uncharted territory," he said, "and I hit a wall."
Joey Votto, who leads the National League with a .484 on-base percentage, wreaked havoc with Duensing's pitch count, drawing an eight-pitch walk in the first inning and a six-pitch walk to open the fourth.
After the second walk, Brandon Phillips smashed Duensing's next pitch for a two-run homer to center field. It was Duensing's 51st offering of the day, a 91-mile-per-hour fastball on the outside corner.
"I was just trying to get ahead [in the count], and if you watch the replay, that ball was about thigh-high," Duensing said. "It's one thing to leave a ball thigh-high and have it sink; you can still get ground balls that way. That ball was just running straight across the zone, and it was easy for him to get on it and get underneath it."
Jay Bruce followed with a single, and Scott Rolen finished Duensing with a nine-pitch at-bat that ended in a double to right field. With Duensing at 63 pitches, manager Ron Gardenhire turned to Anthony Swarzak, who saved a tired bullpen by tossing four innings of relief.
"We were watching [Duensing] as close as we possibly could," Gardenhire said. "It was right at that 50-60 [pitch] mark, and you could see it. It looked like it flattened out just a little on him, and that's expected. But he was throwing the ball really well."
Duensing (1-3) should be able to throw 75-80 pitches in his next start, and the Twins can cross their fingers that he continues looking like the pitcher who went 12-3 as a starter in 2009-10. Last year, Duensing went 9-13 with a 5.24 ERA in 28 starts.
As Duensing noted, he had pitched exclusively from the stretch as a reliever for the past six weeks, so Saturday he was getting used to his wind-up again.
"I was throwing with a lot of conviction and a lot of confidence, and I feel like that was something I really didn't have last year as a starter," he said. "I felt like I was hoping, or trying to will the ball where I wanted it to go.
"So that's a complete turnaround there. I know it was only three innings, but I felt good. It's something I can take to the next start."