Twins fall in finale behind Nolasco's rough start
Offense stifled by Giants as right-hander tagged for seven runs
SAN FRANCISCO -- Twins starter Ricky Nolasco was one pitch away from getting out of a big jam against the Giants in the fifth inning on Sunday afternoon. He ended up giving up the hit that let the Giants run away with an 8-1 victory to sweep Minnesota out of town.
Facing a three-run deficit, Nolasco opened the fifth by walking Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner and allowing two singles. After Nolasco retired the next two batters, Michael Morse came up and lined a 2-2 pitch just past the outstretched glove of Trevor Plouffe down the left-field line to clear the bases and break the game open.
"I thought I made the pitches I needed to make to get out of the inning," Nolasco said. "But just the way the ball goes for us. Not much I can do."
Nolasco (2-5) hasn't looked like an ace since signing a four-year, $49 million deal with the Twins to help shore up their rotation this winter.
On Sunday, he gave up a season-high seven earned runs on nine hits and a walk while striking out three. It marked the fifth time in 10 starts that he allowed at least five earned runs, while his 6.12 ERA is the second-highest among qualifying American League starters, only better than teammate Kevin Correia (6.52).
Asked if there was a reason behind his inconsistency this year, Nolasco simply offered, "There's no real explanation for it."
It was a forgettable series by the bay for the Twins, who only scored three runs all weekend, with Sunday's lone run coming in the third when Brian Dozier hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Eduardo Escobar. Minnesota went 0-for-19 combined with runners in scoring position during the three-game set.
"Overall for the road trip, we really didn't swing the bats very well," manager Ron Gardenhire said after his team was swept for the second time this season. "We still won two ballgames on this road trip, which is probably a good thing. Unfortunately, we couldn't get one here. So, we'll go home and get right back after it against the Rangers and see if we can find a way to get some hits in the right places and win some ballgames."
Just like Saturday night's contest, Sunday's matinee featured an ominous first inning for the Twins.
The Giants were able to bloop in a couple of hits, including a broken-bat single from Buster Posey, to start the frame. Then Pablo Sandoval lifted one to left field and Eduardo Nunez appeared to get a late read on the ball and couldn't make the catch, allowing Hunter Pence to score and Posey to reach third.
Morse (3-for-3, three doubles) also added a sacrifice fly in the first as part of his four-RBI afternoon. San Francisco extended its lead to 3-1 in the third with a solo shot from Pence. Brandon Crawford also hit a fourth-inning sacrifice fly, on a play when center fielder Danny Santana's throw sliced and went nearly halfway up the third-base line.
Santana and Nunez, who are both also infielders, appeared to have rough afternoons in the big outfield at AT&T Park. So what did Nolasco think of the balls that dropped in against him on Sunday?
"That's a tough question," Nolasco said. "You give a team extra outs and they're going to make you pay every time. But at the same time, I'm not making pitches behind that to get people out. Hopefully just fortune changes. Been hoping for a little while now, but not much I can do."
Meanwhile, Bumgarner (6-3, 3.15 ERA) didn't encounter many problems while navigating Minnesota's lineup, which ended the series 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position. The southpaw finished seven innings, allowing an earned run on three hits and no walks while striking out 10.
"For a lot of us, this is our first time facing him," Plouffe said. "He has a lot of deception with his delivery and that was part of it. He can throw different pitches for strikes and he pounded the strike zone."
Though this group of Twins might have been unfamiliar with Bumgarner, he had faced Minnesota before. During that start on June 21, 2011, in San Francisco, he gave up eight earned runs while getting just one batter out.
"I didn't forget that," Bumgarner said. "It sticks with you."
On the flipside, the Giants have had Nolasco's number recently. Considering the two September starts he made for the Dodgers last year, Nolasco is 0-3 with a 13.89 ERA and a 2.49 WHIP his last three times out against San Francisco.
"They're a very good lineup," Nolasco said. "Some things could be different, but it's not. I keep getting beat up by them and there's not much I can do. I can only control what I do and make pitches. We'll see what happens if I ever face them again."
After the game, Gardenhire announced that outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia will rejoin the Twins in Minnesota after rehabbing their respective wrist injuries in the Minor Leagues. Chris Colabello, who leads the Twins with 30 RBIs but has struggled this month, has been demoted to Triple-A Rochester along with outfielder Chris Herrmann.