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News » Good sign, bad results for Twins, struggling pitcher Scott Baker

Good sign, bad results for Twins, struggling pitcher Scott Baker

Good sign, bad results for Twins, struggling pitcher Scott Baker
Scott Baker isn't back. But you can see him from here.

The Twins' putative ace fell to 0-3 on Monday night, was outpitched by a rookie and allowed five hits and a walk when Tampa Bay put runners into scoring position. It amounted to a 7-1 loss to the defending American League champions, and a sour start to a weeklong Metrodome homestand.

Yet Baker and the Twins were encouraged by the lopsided loss to Jeff Niemann and the Rays, and not just because the right-hander's earned-run average is no longer in double digits. Baseballs stayed inside the park for a change, at least when Baker pitched, and he strung together 10 straight outs at one point, briefly resembling the pitcher who earned a $15.25 million vote of confidence this spring.

quot;He made progress. The ball was down,quot; said manager Ron Gardenhire, sounding a little relieved that one of his chief April worries may be straightening himself out. quot;Even though he had a couple of rough innings out there, it was better than what we've seen.quot;

Yes, well, that's not exactly a Cy Young standard. Baker, despite missing the season's first week, led the league in home runs allowed, and had not survived five innings in his previous two starts. Baker's misadventures -- not to mention Francisco Liriano's 0-4 start -- had been the most alarming circumstance of Minnesota's so-so first three weeks.

But Baker went six innings on Monday, and didn't allow Tampa Bay -- or the AL's leading home-run hitter, Carlos Pena -- to add to the seven homers he has allowed.

They came close, very close. A couple of balls hit the wall. And Pena actually did connect again for home run No. 9 -- after Baker departed. But the Twins were more than happy to find encouragement in a mostly uneventful night.

The best reason to exhale a little bit about the Twins' No. 1 starter is that the entire night, perhaps the outcome of the game, might have been different if not for another half-inch, another blade of fake grass, on a first-inning line drive.

Baker was coasting through the first inning when Evan Longoria hit a two-out soft liner that may or may not have grazed the southernmost edge of the foul line. Umpire Paul Emmel spun to spot it, then pointed toward fair territory. Third baseman Joe Crede jumped in the air in disbelief, because quot;from my vantage point, it looked foul. But he was closer to it.quot;

He was, and when Gardenhire beefed, Emmel told the manager he was 100 percent certain of the call, which turned into a double.

quot;The ball down the line was questionable. It was very close,quot; Baker said. quot;I made a good pitch to him, and he cues one down the endquot; of the bat.

Pena followed with a soaring fly ball that bounced in and out of Michael Cuddyer's glove against the right-field wall, a run-scoring triple. And Pat Burrell laced a screaming liner off the left-field wall, nearly a home run but instead just a run-scoring single.

Hey, it's progress.

Handed a lead, one that grew to 4-0 when the Rays got RBI singles from former Twin Jason Bartlett (who also hit his third home run, raising his batting average to .375) and Longoria in the fifth inning, Niemann was able to frustrate Minnesota with his odd delivery and startling changeup. The Twins put two runners on in three of the first four innings against Niemann (2-2) but went 0 for 9 on the night with runners in scoring position. That made their four stolen bases worthless; the Twins' lone run came on Crede's solo home run.

quot;You can see the offense coming around,quot; Crede said. quot;We're building up steam.quot;

See, it was a night for finding positive signs.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 28, 2009

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