SAN FRANCISCO – Their RBI leader is headed to the minors, they’re batting .000 with chances to score, and they’re looking forward to using outfielders in the outfield. Yeah, things got a little disheveled for the Twins on this swing through California.
“We really didn’t swing the bats too well, and we still won two ballgames” on the five-game trip to San Diego and the Bay Area, manager Ron Gardenhire said, trying to stay positive after Sunday’s 8-1 drubbing by the Giants. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t win one here.”
Fortune had less to do with it than their suddenly silent bats, especially with runners in scoring position. The Twins failed on five more run-scoring opportunities Sunday, bringing their total to 0-for-19 in AT&T Park, and 2-for-26 on the road trip. Facing lefthander Madison Bumgarner and his hidden-ball windup, they collected only four singles and struck out 13 times.
The Twins’ response probably seems a little counterintuitive — how many teams demote their RBI leader, one who opened the day ranked 12th in the American League despite getting only one at-bat in the past eight days? Yet that’s what the Twins did, optioning Chris Colabello and his 30 RBI to Class AAA Rochester after the game, along with third catcher Chris Herr- mann, in order to fix what they judge to be a hopelessly knotted-up swing.
“He’s not swinging very well right now, and it’s been a struggle. He had a great first month, and he’s had a really bad one since then,” Gardenhire said of Colabello, stuck in an 0-for-23 slump that dates to May 8. “A month ago, he was on everything, and now he’s missing everything. I don’t know where you go — there’s got to be an in-between somewhere. That’s why this is such a tough sport.”
Yeah, and hitting’s not the only tough part. The Twins still have issues with catching the ball, and pitching it, too. Utility infielders Eduardo Nunez and Danny Santana started in the outfield Sunday, along with converted first baseman Chris Parmelee, and the transition wasn’t always smooth. In the first inning alone, Santana gave up on a bloop that Gardenhire thought could have been caught, and Nunez slid past a short pop fly, turning a series of soft hits into two first-inning runs. These plays came a day after a mishandled double play cost the Twins the game-winning run in a 2-1 loss.
“We all know we have to rely on catching the baseball,” Gardenhire grumbled about the missed plays. “We’re getting two outfielders back. That’s going to help.”
Yes, Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia, their wrists healed and their bats tuned at Rochester, will be in uniform Monday afternoon in Target Field, and while neither has the speed of a middle infielder, Gardenhire believes they will provide more sure-handed defense.
If that’s the case, Ricky Nolasco welcomes it. It seems as though Nolasco is a frequent recipient of some iffy defense behind him, and while that’s hardly the only reason for his seven-run setback, it didn’t help.
“You give a team extra outs, they’re going to make you pay every time. At the same time, I’m not making pitches behind [soft defense] to get people out,” said the righthander, whose ERA inflated past 6.00 once more after he gave up seven runs on nine hits in 4 ⅔ innings. “Hopefully, fortunes change; [I’ve been] hoping for that for a little while now.”
A Nolasco wild pitch helped fuel that two-run first, and he laid a fastball down the middle that Hunter Pence hammered almost 400 feet in the third. After giving up another run in the fourth, Nolasco loaded the bases in the fifth, then struck out Buster Posey and got Pablo Sandoval to pop up into short left.
“He almost got out of it. He got two big outs, and then he made a pitch” to Michael Morse, Gardenhire said. But Morse grounded that pitch just inside the left field line, and all three runners scored.
“That just the way the ball goes for us,” Nolasco said. “Not much I can do.”
Just like there’s not much the Twins can do at the plate at the moment. The Twins played 45 innings on this trip, scored two runs exactly once. It has been 57 innings, actually, since they had a three-run inning. They were outscored 16-4 in the series, outhit 23-15 and outhomered 4-0.
“When you run into these stretches, which we’ve been doing a lot of, you have to just keep battling away,” Gardenhire said. “If we weren’t giving ourselves opportunities, it would be disappointing, but we’re putting men out there. We’re just not getting the big hit to drive them in.”