Twins fall in series finale vs. Mariners ace Hernandez
Plouffe provides early lead with two-run single, but arms struggle
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins knew that getting their second three-game sweep of the season wasn't going to be easy with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on the mound in the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
The Twins looked capable of extending their winning streak early, as they got out to a two-run lead, but it wasn't to be as they otherwise played sloppy and saw lackluster pitching performances from right-hander Ricky Nolasco and several relievers, including Anthony Swarzak, Caleb Thielbar and Matt Guerrier.
Nolasco lasted just five innings and was outdueled by Hernandez to snap the Twins' three-game winning streak with a 6-2 loss to the Mariners at Target Field.
"It was not the result we were looking for," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We got a couple runs early off Felix, but Nolasco labored through it. We missed some plays, which ended up costing us, and we walked too many. It just wasn't our day out there today."
Nolasco, who had recorded three straight quality starts, saw that streak come to an end as he gave up three runs on six hits and three walks. It was the second-shortest outing of the year for Nolasco, who fell to 2-4 with a 5.50 ERA in nine outings this season.
"They made him work," Gardenhire said. "They took a lot of pitches. He threw 100 pitches in five innings. Plus there were a few plays out there we probably could've made, but he just ran up a lot of high pitch counts to hitters."
Nolasco got through three scoreless frames before running into trouble in the fourth inning after surrendering a leadoff single to Robinson Cano. Nolasco then walked Corey Hart before giving up an RBI single to Kyle Seager. Nolasco ended up loading the bases with two outs, but was able to get out of the jam by striking out Brad Miller looking.
He wasn't as fortunate in the fifth as he failed to cover first base on a grounder from James Jones hit to first baseman Joe Mauer that went for an infield single to open the frame. Michael Saunders made Nolasco pay, as he roped an RBI triple down the line to tie the game at 2. Cano followed with an RBI double off the wall in center field to give the Mariners a one-run lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"We definitely worked the counts and got his pitch count up quick," Saunders said. "It was more just trying to get a pitch to hit and handle, and he was kind of nibbling around the zone. We did a good job of not chasing."
It was enough offense for Hernandez, who was his usual dominant self by going eight strong innings. He gave up two runs on seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts to improve to 5-1 with a 2.94 ERA.
The two runs the Twins scored against Hernandez were aided by instant replay in the third inning. Aaron Hicks led off with a walk before Danny Santana hit a grounder to first baseman Justin Smoak, who flipped the ball to Hernandez for what was originally ruled an out by first-base umpire Toby Basner.
Gardenhire challenged the ruling on the field, and the play was overturned, as Santana beat Hernandez to the bag for an infield single. It proved important for the Twins, as both Hicks and Santana came around to score on a two-out single from Trevor Plouffe.
"It's always good to score early," Plouffe said. "Felix is a guy you don't want to settle in and get into his rhythm. But by the end there, he settled in."
After Nolasco departed, the bullpen immediately ran into trouble. Swarzak struggled in the sixth, loading the bases with one out before coming out for Thielbar. Thielbar gave up a sacrifice fly to right field to Saunders, bringing home a run, but the Twins were able to get Miller as he tried to advance to third on the throw home to end the inning.
The Mariners scored again in the seventh on a one-out RBI double down the left-field line from Smoak off Thielbar. It continued Thielbar's recent struggles, as he now has a 4.50 ERA after entering Wednesday with a 1.64 ERA. They scored again in the ninth on a wild pitch from Guerrier with two outs to bring home Cano, who picked up his fourth hit of the afternoon earlier in the inning.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney tossed a scoreless ninth to preserve the win. But the Twins still took solace in the fact they won their third straight series after also taking two out of three against the Tigers and Red Sox.
"If we win every series, we'll be in good shape," left fielder Jason Kubel said. "It's hard to sweep anybody. We just have to try to keep winning series, and if we do that, we'll be in a good spot."