Notes: Rays a thorn in Nathan's side
Closer allows two runners to score on Wednesday
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Nathan was frustrated at his locker following Wednesday's loss, his first blown save of the season.
And understandably so. The right-hander allowed two Rays to score in the bottom of the ninth inning to knot the game at three, and watched his team lose in the 10th after a quirky ball bounced off the catwalk, allowing the winning run to reach base.
Nathan had a 2.19 ERA heading into Wednesday and had allowed just three runs to score on him all season, spanning 12 outings and 12 1/3 innings. Two of those runs, however, came at the hand of Tampa Bay during a mid-April game.
"These guys have been my kryptonite," he lamented. "They've got a great lineup. Obviously, they can score runs. You've got to make pitches. I left some balls up to them and they did what they're supposed to do."
Nathan walked a batter and allowed three consecutive two-out singles in the ninth inning on Wednesday in what must have been a maddening deja-vu for the normally air-tight closer, who'd converted all seven saves presented him at that point. On April 15, he gave up two ninth-inning doubles and a single to Tampa Bay and stood helpless as the winning and insurance runs crossed home to break a four-all tie.
It may be easy to say the Rays have discovered Nathan's weakness, something no other team has been able to do this season. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire thought otherwise.
"I wouldn't say they have his number," Gardenhire said on Wednesday. "I don't think too many people have his number. He just didn't make enough quality pitches tonight. He had two outs. He just couldn't finish it off."
Whatever the case, rest assured Nathan will seek redemption should he see an opportunity in the series finale Thursday. If not, he'll have to be content in waiting until next year, when the two clubs clash again.
No longer a laughing matter: Gardenhire was quick and to the point when answering a question on Michael Cuddyer's prognosis: "Not good."
The right fielder removed himself from Wednesday's lineup because of soreness in his back, which he bruised during a baserunning spill a day earlier. Gardenhire said Cuddyer was hurting more on Thursday than he'd been since the injury, and that the tenderness had moved towards the center of the back.
That caused a fair amount of alarm in regard to the spine, so Cuddyer was scheduled for precautionary on-site X-rays Thursday afternoon.
"It was muscular [Thursday], he was feeling more muscle spasms. But just because there are spasms doesn't mean it's [something else]," Gardenhire said. "We want to make sure it's not a crack, or something."
Also ailing: Jeff Cirillo survived an awkward play at second while base running, but the third baseman is still a bit leery defensively where his surgically repaired right knee is concerned. Cirillo will continue to DH as he works through his hesitance, and will put in some extra time on the field to combat the anxiety.
Drills will include running, diving, soft toss and fungoes, so that Cirillo can get back into the swing of reading balls as they come off of the bat. The drills will continue until Cirillo feels more comfortable with his motion.
Liriano says hello: Francisco Liriano rejoined the team at Tampa Bay on Thursday, as much for a mental benefit as physical. The Twins starter has not been with his teammates since he underwent Tommy John surgery during the offseason, and Gardenhire said it was nice to see the youngster's smiling face.
Liriano also will go with the team back to Minnesota, where he'll check in with team doctors.
"He's been through a lot as a young player," Gardenhire said. "He missed the ballclub, he misses being a part of it. We get to see how he's doing, where he's at, say hello to him, and [he] gets to hang around with the guys and relax for a few days, because he's going through a long process.
"It's a little bit of a healing thing for everybody."
Down on the farm: Double-A New Britain swept an early doubleheader Thursday, downing Binghamton 4-3, 7-2. Gil Velazquez headlined the first game with a three-run triple, and starter Brian Forystek had four shutout innings in the second to aid in the victory. ... The Class A Miracle continued to struggle, dropping a 4-0 game to Tampa after Yankees starter Ian Kennedy allowed just three hits over eight innings. It was the third shutout in four days, and the third time Fort Myers was only able to garner three hits.
Twins tidbits: Wednesday was the first time in 14 tries this season that Minnesota had lost when leading after eight innings. It also ended a streak of 106 games the Twins had won when ahead after eight, dating back to Sept. 6, 2005. ... Entering Thursday, Justin Morneau was 17-for-44 (.386) with three doubles, two triples, three homers and 11 RBIs at Tropicana Field. ... Minnesota's 10 outfield assists rank second in the AL. Cuddyer leads the Majors with six.
Coming up: The Twins head home to prepare for a nine-game homestand that includes three games each against the Red Sox, White Sox and Tigers. On Friday, Minnesota faces Boston in a 6:05 p.m. CT matchup. The Twins will send right-hander Carlos Silva (2-1, 3.10 ERA) to the mound, and the Red Sox will counter with righty Tim Wakefield (2-3, 2.59).
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.