Twins' small margin for error vs. Hernandez exceeded

Seattle's Felix Hernandez continued his recent domination of the Twins, giving up two runs and seven hits while striking out five and walking one.

The Twins don’t excel in one area. Their formula — just enough pitching, just enough hitting, just enough defense — has been enough for them to look more competitive than they have been in years.

With King Felix on the hill, all those phases need to work. They didn’t Sunday. And, boy, was it a clunker as the Twins lost 6-2 to Seattle and star righthander Felix Hernandez, who went eight strong innings.

The blame could be spread around after the Twins fumbled away a 2-0 lead and fell back to .500 on the season. Once Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner and one of the game’s true aces, was given the lead in the fifth, he bowed his back and dominated his final three innings.

“More than anything else,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “I thought we were a little sloppy out there.”

A little?

Warning signs popped up in the second inning, when shortstop Danny Santana was late with a throw to first on a potential inning-ending double play on Dustin Ackley’s ground ball. Twins righthander Ricky Nolasco got out of it by getting Mike Zunino to ground out.

The Twins took a 2-0 lead in the third on Trevor Plouffe’s two-run single. But Seattle got a run back in the fourth on a bloop RBI single to center by Kyle Seager. Center fielder Aaron Hicks had a chance at a play but decided to pull up at the last second. Nolasco labored through that inning, throwing 33 pitches.

Then came the fun in the fifth inning. James Jones hit a routine grounder to first that was bobbled by Joe Mauer. Nolasco got a late break to first and couldn’t get to the bag as Mauer tried to flip the ball to him. Jones outraced Nolasco and was given a hit. Jones then stole second, and Michael Saunders, who hit .545 in the series, hit a triple to the right field corner to tie the score.

Robinson Cano followed with a blast to the wall in center. There was a stiff breeze that blew the ball toward left field. Hicks didn’t take into account the wind, and he compounded things by getting turned around as he broke back. The ball landed about 15 feet to his right as Saunders scored, putting Seattle ahead 3-2.

Nolasco (2-4) was pulled after five innings and 100 pitches. He gave up three runs on six hits and three walks. The Twins walked five Mariners batters Sunday.

“We missed some plays, which ended up costing us,” Gardenhire said. “It may not show up on the scoreboard. And walking too many batters. Just not our day out there.”

Seattle poured it on against the Twins relievers, getting a sacrifice fly from Saunders in the sixth, an RBI double by Justin Smoak in the seventh and a run on a wild pitch in the ninth. Hernandez (5-1) retired nine of the last 11 batters he faced.

Though the Twins couldn’t complete the sweep, they went 4-2 on their homestand and now head to interleague series at San Diego and San Francisco. The team says there is a different feeling the clubhouse this year, but what happened on the field Sunday looked like last season.

“We need to make a couple of adjustments,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said, “and learn from the mistakes we made today.”

 

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