Twins' problems persist in loss
Ponson continues to struggle as club drops fourth straight
MINNEAPOLIS -- Postgame meetings are nothing new for the Twins, but even Torii Hunter acknowledged that the one following Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Royals had a bit more of an edge than most.Coming off four straight losses and an even longer stretch of games where nothing has really gone right for the Twins, manager Ron Gardenhire wanted to make sure that his club got his message loud and clear. And that message was to stick together and keep playing. Because despite the team's problems, it's early. "He was pretty pumped up," Hunter said. "But he's for us. He knows that last year we struggled in April and May and ended up winning the division. So this was just to give us a little big of encouragement, that it's going to come through. You see a lot of guys with their heads hanging low, so he had to remind us what happened last year." This April swoon hasn't quite reached the depths that the club hit in the first month of last year, when the Twins were clearly floundering. The Twins' record now stands at 11-10. But it's clear that over the past couple games, the struggles have reached a point where it's affecting every aspect of the team. From the pitching to the hitting to the baserunning, the Twins feel as if nothing can go their way right now. "Something is not there," Hunter said. "Everybody knows it. Something is not there, but we're not panicking. It's just three weeks in April." The concern heading into the season was the starting pitching. And while it hasn't been as bad as everyone had feared, the Twins saw one of their problem areas on the mound Wednesday. That was right-hander Sidney Ponson, who had yet another shaky start. He gave up four runs in six innings, in what was his second consecutive start against the Royals. Things started off poorly for Ponson as he gave up back-to-back hits in the first inning. A little help from his defense kept just one baserunner aboard when Mike Sweeney delivered a two-out home run over the left-field wall on a hanging changeup to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead. The Royals scored their other two runs on a homer in the fifth inning off Ponson. This one came off the bat of David DeJesus, who blasted a 480-foot shot to the upper deck in right field with no outs. It seems like the problems were a continuation of what had already been seen from Ponson early this year. In his four starts, Ponson (1-3) has allowed a total of 45 baserunners over 21 1/3 innings. The message by the club to Ponson before this start was that it was time for the right-hander to show improvement. Gardenhire said he felt it was there, judging by Ponson's increased aggressiveness and his ability to limit his mistakes to two pitches. But Ponson didn't quite agree with the assessment. "I put them [the lineup] in a hole and that adds more pressure," Ponson said. "So that doesn't help either. It's not easy, I'm working hard and the results aren't there. I'm sick and tired of infield hits and stuff like that. I need to start making better pitches." But Ponson isn't the only one who needs to start producing better results. Perhaps the most frustrating of all the problem areas for the Twins has been the lack of offense over the past six games. That's because the struggles have come when the Twins have been facing some less than fearsome names on the mound, such as lefty Odalis Perez, the Royals starter Wednesday. The Twins are 1-5 in their past six games, including two losses to Perez. For the season, Perez's only two wins this season have come against the Twins. He is 2-2 with a 7.54 ERA. Yet here was Perez shutting down the Twins offense yet again. He held the Twins to just three runs on five hits over six innings. Even after Perez's departure, the Twins would come up with one additional hit over the final three innings against a battered and beat-up Royals bullpen. And when the chances were there for the Twins to break out of their rut, like in the sixth against Perez when Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs, it was the Twins' inability to execute that proved troublesome. Despite the ideal circumstances, only one run would score as Michael Cuddyer grounded into a double play and Justin Morneau hit a weak groundout to second base to kill the rally. "When you are fighting things, you don't trust yourself completely so you chase pitches early in the count and make some easy outs," Gardenhire said. "When you're feeling good and they make a mistake, you make them pay for it. Right now, we're not making them pay for it." Just how far the Twins are from getting breaks was evidenced on a baserunning mistake by rookie Alexi Casilla in the eighth inning. Casilla was on second with a runner at first and two outs when Morneau, the reigning American League MVP, came to the plate. But before Morneau even had a chance in the at-bat, Casilla was caught drifting too far from the base and was picked off to end any hope for the club. So the question becomes just how are the Twins going to get out of their slump? "I think we need to make better choices, myself and everybody," Hunter said. "Whether it's on the base or on defense or whatever it may be. Or even pitching. We just need to make better choices." The Twins hope that starts now.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.