KANSAS CITY, Mo. – No wonder Samuel Deduno stared at Ron Gardenhire when the manager came to pull him from Tuesday’s game. They probably didn’t recognize each other.
The oft-erratic Dominican, who gave up a half-dozen runs in his first start and plunked three hitters in his second, was the picture of placidity Tuesday, rolling through the Royals lineup with barely a whiff of Dedunoan angst. In six-plus effortless innings, the righthander walked only two, did not permit a single batter to reach third base while he was in the game and cruised to a 3-0 Twins victory over Kansas City.
It was the second shutout in a row posted by the Twins, the first time that has happened since July 31-Aug. 1, 2010. And while Deduno threw a season-high 105 pitches and took the mound to start the seventh inning, Gardenhire got the impression he wanted even more.
“He was eyeballing me, he was definitely eyeballing me,” Gardenhire said of Deduno’s reaction to the manager’s hook, which came after Lorenzo Cain doubled to lead off the inning. “... I want him to eyeball me. I don’t want him to come out of the game, but that was actually a really cool stare. He stared me down, I melted, but I went and got him anyway.”
That’s not exactly how Deduno remembers it; when he saw Gardenhire step out of the dugout, he turned to the scoreboard to see how many pitches he had thrown, then turned back to the manager. “Just [my] regular look,” he said.
Maybe so, but it wasn’t just Deduno’s regular stuff. The righthander got ahead of 13 of the 23 hitters he faced (and one hit the first pitch), an encouraging sign for the Twins’ most strike-challenged starter.
“First-pitch strike, no matter what pitch I use — slider, curve, fastball,” he said when asked what has changed about his approach. “First-pitch strike, everything going to be good.”
Lately, everything has been good about the Twins bullpen, too, which made it easier for Gardenhire to stare down his starter. Brian Duensing faced one hitter — threw one pitch, actually — Casey Fein faced two, and Jared Burton and Glen Perkins three apiece, and none gave up so much as an infield hit. Nine up, nine down, continuing a hot streak that has lasted 37⅓ innings now, with Twins relievers posting a 0.96 ERA in that time and allowing hitters a .150 batting average.
“A fantastic job,” Gardenhire said.
Sure it’s coming against a last-place Royals team, one that showed, on its Hall of Fame new hitting coach’s first home game, just how big a job George Brett faces. But with their eighth victory in 10 games, the Twins, in fifth place when the stretch began, moved within 2½ games of Cleveland for second place in the AL Central.
“It feels good,” said Ryan Doumit, who once again powered the offense, this time with a home run, a single, a walk and two RBI. “There’s a lot of confidence in here right now.”
Doumit is the source of a lot of it, the way he’s hitting. After three scoreless innings, he led off the fourth by fighting off four 3-2 pitches from Kansas City righthander Luis Mendoza, then pouncing on the fifth, an 85-mph slider that hung high in the strike zone. It landed 405 feet away, in front of the right-center fountains, and the Twins had all the runs they needed.
“I was just trying to get a pitch up and put the bat on the ball — that’s all I’m thinking,” Doumit said. “Once I hit it, I knew I got it. But that certainly wasn’t my intention with two strikes, trying to hit a home run.”
He and Josh Willingham each drove in their 30th run of the season in the fifth with RBI singles.
“It feels like every time I’m up to bat, there are people up in front of me,” said Doumit, who has 13 RBI in his past eight games. “We’re in a little bit of a groove now.”