For the Twins to get where they want to go, their starting rotation must return to its early-season form.
Lefthander Tommy Milone gave them such an outing Wednesday as the Twins pulled out a 3-0 victory at Target Field. Milone dominated the White Sox once again, taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning before Trevor Plouffe, who broke a 0-for-19 skid earlier in the game, delivered a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh to add a little cushion.
The Twins kept the heat on Texas, which defeated San Diego 4-3 Wednesday, in the race for a wild-card spot as they won for the 10th time in their past 12 games. If they reach the playoffs, they can look back and savor how they got fat off the White Sox. They are 11-4 against them so far this season.
Milone helped take some heat off the bullpen with seven shutout innings. Twins starters entered Wednesday with a 4.17 ERA, 22nd in baseball. They posted a 5.41 ERA in August to slide down the league rankings. Milone’s latest outing — in which he gave up three hits and struck out seven — was sorely needed.
“It makes a big difference,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ve had to overextend guys because of the lack of innings we’ve been getting from our starters. So any time we get them out there through at least six, and hopefully seven, it is a good night for us. You’ve got to monitor your guys and evaluate.”
But there might be another reason why they need the rotation to step up. Closer Glen Perkins’ back flared up again before the game, and the Twins might leave him behind for treatment as they head out on a three-city road trip following Thursday’s afternoon game against Chicago. One less reliever, a key one, will be at Molitor’s disposal.
Milone went to the mound with a changeup that dropped out of sight and hit both corners of the plate with his fastball. He doesn’t throw hard, but he knows he has to pitch inside effectively to succeed. Home plate umpire Lance Barrett’s strike zone was generous on the outside corner and once Milone realized that, he worked over White Sox hitters, blowing some away with 87-miles-per-hour fastballs.
He’s 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA against Chicago this season, and 4-0, 1.39 against them in his career.
“That’s where we got ahead, down and away,” Milone said. “Paint that outside corner, first pitch. And then work in and off and expand the zone.”
Milone (7-4) carried a lead into the late innings on the strength of one mighty Miguel Sano swing. The rookie dug in at home plate with orders not to run the bases hard. He has a sore right hamstring, so sore he said it was “bad” before the game. He doesn’t have to run hard if he hits home runs.
He got all of a 0-1 Carlos Rodon pitch in the second inning and sent it soaring over the center field wall and off the batter’s eye to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Sano’s 15th home run (in only 51 major league games) was estimated at 434 feet.
Plouffe came through with a bases-loaded double with two outs in the seventh to make it 3-0. Trevor May pitched the eighth and Kevin Jepsen worked the ninth for his ninth save — his fifth as a Twin — in place of Perkins.
Molitor saw early signs that Milone was going to have a good night.
“It’s going to include being able to spot his fastball,” Molitor said. “His changeup was really effective tonight behind in the count. He had guys out in front. They just weren’t picking it up very well. Got a lot of swings and misses.”