ARLINGTON, TEXAS – One day after Ervin Santana pitched about as clean and efficient two-hitter as you could imagine, Tyler Duffey emulated him Thursday. Except for the clean and efficient part.
Duffey battled, sometimes unsuccessfully, with his control and watched his pitch count soar as he worked his way into — and out of — trouble at Globe Life Park. But when his six long innings in the muggy Texas heat were finished, the Twins righthander had given up, yes, only two hits, both harmless leadoff singles. And after scoring four runs early, the Twins poured it on late to to beat the Rangers 10-1 for their fourth victory in five games.
“Tyler was obviously scuffling from the get-go,” manager Paul Molitor said after the second-year starter improved to 5-6 on the season with his own third victory in a row. “We talked to him between innings, and tried to get him to settle down a little bit.”
Settling down always has been a problem for the emotional Texan, and with roughly 40 friends and family members in the stands — Duffey grew up in Houston, about 250 miles from Arlington — he could have run aground on his own emotions. And it looked like he might in the first three innings.
That Duffey contributed six other baserunners to Texas, in the form of four walks and two hit batters, ended up being just a footnote. After walking Ian Desmond and Adrian Beltre to open the third inning, Duffey retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, six on strikeouts.
“The first inning was bad, the second inning was a little rough, but I’ve been in the process of learning how to slow the game down. I think I did that today,” Duffey said. “I feel like I was in check a little better today. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to keep your emotions, but I’m getting better at it.”
He has been for a couple of weeks now, a strong and timely turnaround after a month of terrible results that threatened his hold on a spot in the Twins rotation. From May 20 to June 21, Duffey posted a 9.17 ERA and gave up at least four runs in his seven starts.
But since then? He has thrown 20 innings, 12 of them against Texas, owners of the AL’s best record, and has given up only five runs while striking out 19. That’s a 2.25 ERA, and a re-emerging identity as a reliable workhorse in the middle of the Twins rotation.
“Duffey hung in there without his best stuff,” Molitor said. “It’s good to see.”
Even better for the Twins, it was their second consecutive game in which the starting pitcher gave up no runs — that hasn’t happened in a year, since Santana and Phil Hughes did it on July 23 and 24 — and their seventh consecutive start of four runs or fewer. Since Twins starting pitchers gave up five or more runs 10 times in May and 12 in June, that represents tangible progress.
Meanwhile, the Twins battered Texas starter Chi Chi Gonzalez for the second time in six days. Gonzalez didn’t finish the first inning in his previous start, a 17-5 Twins victory Saturday, and the Twins picked right up Thursday with nine hits. But by going 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, they also left plenty of runners on base.
“What did we score, 10 runs?” Molitor said. “But I know we left 15 runners on base.”
Still, they got home runs from Kurt Suzuki, Max Kepler and Kennys Vargas, and hits from all nine starters. And when they erupted to put the game away with a five-run eighth, they faced a Texas position player on the mound for the second time in five days, this one outfielder Jared Hoying.
Kepler had three RBI. He has driven in a run in six games in a row, and he has 14 RBI over that stretch.