CINCINNATI – Twins manager Paul Molitor was looking for more offense on Monday night, when he juggled his lineup to bat Torii Hunter third for the first time all season.
He got the desired effect, but the Twins could not outhit Mike Pelfrey’s poor pitching.
Pelfrey was torched early, and it looked like it would be blowout city at Great American Ball Park. The Twins fought back to make things interesting before losing 11-7 to the Reds. It was only the fifth time this month the Twins had reached seven runs, and it came in a loss.
“At the end of day we ended up scoring seven, and we need to win with that,” said Pelfrey (5-5), whose two-plus innings Monday were his shortest outing since May 21, 2013. “That’s frustrating to be down 9-1 after three. I put these guys — not only the bullpen but the offense — in a hole.”
Cincinnati scored three runs in the first, one in the second and five in the third to knock Pelfrey out and get some licks in on recently promoted righthander Alex Meyer.
The Twins were coming off a three-game weekend series in which they hit .219 at Milwaukee, including .143 with runners in scoring position. But Molitor’s lineup, which also had Joe Mauer batting second and Eddie Rosario fifth, started clicking against Reds righthander Mike Leake, albeit when Cincinnati held an eight-run lead.
Hunter led off the fourth with a double then scored on Trevor Plouffe’s single. Rosario ended a lengthy at-bat with a single to center, putting two runners on.
Kurt Suzuki struck out, but Eduardo Escobar cracked an RBI double to score Plouffe and make it 9-3. Pinch hitter Kennys Vargas popped out, but Danny Santana singled to right to make it 9-4 and bring Brian Dozier to the plate with two men on.
Dozier promptly fell behind 0-2. Catcher Travis Barnhart set up for a pitch down and away. Leake instead threw a belt-high fastball over the middle, about as bad a miss as a pitcher can make on an 0-2 count. Dozier didn’t miss it, blasting a three-run homer to left to bring the Twins within 9-7. Dozier — hoping to return to Cincinnati in two weeks as an American League All-Star — leads the Twins, and all major league second basemen, with 16 home runs.
“We felt like we were always in the game, especially playing here,” Dozier said. “Anything can happen with a couple swings of the bat. It’s a Cracker Jack box. You put that [with] our fight and we never felt like we were out of the game until the last pitch.”
The Reds bullpen pitched 9⅓ innings over two games vs. the Mets on Sunday and were vulnerable, but the Twins could not come up with another run, stranding runners at third in the fifth and sixth innings while going hitless over the final five innings against relievers Nate Adcock (1-1), Manny Parra and Aroldis Chapman. Meanwhile, the Reds added single runs in the sixth and seventh, and Chapman used a fastball that reached 103 miles per hour to strike out Santana, Dozier and Mauer in the ninth.
Cincinnati’s 17-hit attack included four extra-base hits and six stolen bases. Four of those steals were by Billy Hamilton, who has done it three times in his young career.
It was just too much for the Twins to overcome despite that six-run fourth inning.
“You think you have life,” Molitor said, “especially when you are looking at [innings] five, six, seven and before you have to get to the big boy at the end. Their guys that came in, they put zeroes up.’’