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La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Postgame: Nunez sacrificed on his own, and it nearly paid off

    OAKLAND, Calif. — A handful of extras from a Memorial Day loss that featured some unusual camouflage uniforms:

    The Twins had one promising opportunity to rally to victory on Monday, but it wound up as just another frustrating zero on the scoreboard. Trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Juan Centeno led off against reliever John Axford with a solid single to left. Danny Santana twice tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but when he was unsuccessful, he swung away at an 0-2 pitch — and blooped the ball into short left field, putting the tying run on second.

    Paul Molitor didn’t want to sacrifice again, not with his most consistent hitter, Eduardo Nunez, at the plate, but he signaled that a drag bunt would be OK, figuring that Nunez would either beat it out or at least move the runners up. But Nunez missed the bunt for strike one.

    “I gave him an option to bunt for a hit on the first pitch, but then I took it off,” Molitor said. “He ended up electing to try that on his own.”

    Nunez did, rolling the ball toward Axford, who took the sure out at first base. “I didn’t have a big issue with that, with where we were at in the game and our bullpen being fairly fresh,” Molitor said.

    Trouble was, Brian Dozier, after taking a ball and a strike, tried to pull a pair of 98-mph fastballs from Axford, and couldn’t catch up to them. His strikeout left it up to Joe Mauer with two outs, and Athletics manager Bob Melvin decided to go to his left-handed co-closer, Sean Doolittle.

    That worked out for the A’s — barely.

    Mauer took two strikes, then took two balls low and outside, all of them 94 mph or faster. Then he lashed out at the 2-2 pitch, another four-seamer, and hammered it toward right field. A clutch two-out, two-run single? Twins lead?

    Almost. But first baseman Yonder Alonso made an off-balance snag and held on to the ball, ending the Twins’ biggest — and last — threat.

    “Joe had a nice at-bat,” Molitor said. “As little as we did offensively, we were just a couple of inches from taking the lead.”

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    The game featured some other strong defense, too, like Brian Dozier’s diving catch of a weak liner by Marcus Semien to end the second inning. He raced about 30 feet toward shortstop, seemed to launch himself off second base, and caught the ball inches from the ground.

    The Twins also turned two double plays, Centeno threw out Coco Crisp trying to steal, and they nabbed Semien at third base when he tried to score on a throw to the plate. Alonso was on first base when Semien doubled to the left-center wall, and he scored as the Twins hurried the ball to the infield. But Joe Mauer cut off Eduardo Escobar’s throw to the plate at the mound and redirected it to Nunez at third, just beating Semien. The A’s appealed, but the out was confirmed, saving a run when Crisp hit what would have been a sacrifice fly moments later.

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    The A’s had a nice defensive play, too, but it probably made the Twins cringe. Dozier drove a pitch to the warning track in right-center, where Chris Coughlan caught it an instant before colliding with Crisp. He threw the ball to the infield to keep Nunez from moving up, then collapsed next to Crisp against the wall. Both were OK, though, after a moment to collect themselves. Still, it must have worried the Twins to see such a play, considering their regular right fielder, Miguel Sano, weighs 270 pounds or so.

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    When Danny Santana was pulled from the game, Trevor Plouffe took his place, moving Nunez to shortstop and relocating Escobar into left field, the first time since Sept. 3 he’s had to play the outfield. The domino effect also moved Robbie Grossman from left to center field, where he had not played in the majors since Aug. 31, 2013. The outfield at that point: Escobar, Grossman and Oswaldo Arcia.

Hughes headed to bullpen when Gibson returns

    OAKLAND, Calif. — The Twins have solved their recurring too-many-starters problems once again, and in a surprising way: By sending Phil Hughes to the bullpen.

    Kyle Gibson will return from the disabled list on Thursday, manager Paul Molitor announced Monday, and start that night against Tampa Bay. Hughes will be available for long relief.

    It makes sense from the standpoint of experience — Hughes was a reliever with the Yankees in 2009, even earned a trio of saves. And when he returned from his back ailment last September, he worked twice out of the pen.

    But it’s still a bit of a shock, given the Twins’ investment — roughly $46 million more owed Hughes between now and 2019 — in the veteran starter.

    “We have a five-man rotation, not six, so we had to make a decision,” Molitor said. “Phil was good. He understood. He handled it very professionally. He said he’s going to go out there and try to help us out.”

    It’s not exactly a permanent solution, of course, given that the Twins have already used nine different starting pitchers this season, and have another potential starter, Taylor Rogers, in the bullpen already. Molitor said as much, noting that “in the short term, we want to keep Pat [Dean] in there.”

    Hughes, one of several Twins pitchers who had a disastrous month of May — at 1-7, he leads the majors in losses and currently owns a 5.74 ERA —  will mostly pitch in long relief, Molitor said, since he’s already stretched out for 100 pitches.

    Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe will both start tomorrow, Molitor said, to give them one more workout and one more day of rest before returning from minor injuries. And Byung Ho Park is out of the lineup today, too, after going 1-for-11 in Seattle. He’s in the throes of a 3-for-36 slump. Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer, on the other hand, are on a power streak, with Sano attempting to tie the franchise record for consecutive games with a home run. He has four; Harmon Killebrew (three times) and Marty Cordova had five-game streaks.

    The Twins and A’s are wearing “camouflage” style uniforms today in honor of Memorial Day. The game is televised on ESPN, not Fox Sports North.

    Here are the lineups:

TWINS

 

Nunez 3B

Dozier 2B

Mauer 1B

Sano DH

Grossman LF

Arcia RF

Escobar SS

Centeno C

D. Santana CF

 

E. Santana RHP

 

A’S

 

Crisp CF

Lowrie 2B

Vogt C

Valencia 3B

Davis LF

Butler DH

Alonso 1B

Semien SS

Coghlan RF

 

Graveman RHP