Bullpen preserves big third for Twins
Struggling relievers work past jams to support decisive inning
KANSAS CITY -- Good weeks usually don't start with food poisoning on Monday. The Twins know that.
Dennys Reyes got sick to start the week, and then it only got worse for him and the rest of the relievers.
The bullpen allowed a 10-run seventh inning to last-place Seattle on Monday. Joe Nathan couldn't hold the Mariners the next night. In between, manager Ron Gardenhire talked about making some changes in the bullpen, which had the worst road ERA in baseball.
Thank goodness it's Friday.
The Twins won, 4-1, against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, with the bullpen getting out of several jams and finally putting some of the earlier problems of the week behind it.
"You try to not to put any pressure on one game over the next," reliever Craig Breslow said, "but our struggles in Seattle were pretty well documented."
Breslow, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Nathan got through several jams without allowing a run in relief of starter Kevin Slowey on Friday. Their work helped Minnesota keep pace with the White Sox, who won Friday. The Twins remain a half-game out of the division lead.
Music played in the clubhouse after the game, but the mood wasn't as upbeat as it could've been.
Early in the game Friday, the Twins received word that Michael Cuddyer had broken his left foot while playing for Triple-A Rochester. He'll be re-evaluated Sunday, but there's no way Cuddyer will be back Monday as was expected.
"It's like a family, and he's one of us," right fielder Denard Span said. "We heard the news during the game, and that's a tough break."
Slowey made a name for himself the first time he pitched in Kansas City. He threw a complete game, his first, and used it as a springboard for what has been a successful season. Friday, he wasn't quite as fresh.
He didn't allow a run through five, but got in trouble in the sixth. Slowey gave up a run before handing the ball to Breslow with two out and runners on first and third. Breslow then got Alex Gordon to fly out to end the inning.
The bullpen faced another challenge during the next inning. Reyes replaced Crain with runners on second and third and two out, and got a strikeout.
After a routine eighth for Guerrier, Nathan loaded the bases in the ninth with two outs. Facing one of the Royals' best hitters in David DeJesus, Nathan forced him to ground out on the first pitch, sealing his 31st save.
"They all came in and got some big outs," Gardenhire said. "Breslow got a big one there. I know we've had some struggles on the road, but they're taking the ball. They're gamers, and they got some big outs tonight."
The Royals couldn't get many big outs. Minnesota walked eight times Friday night, a large number considering the Twins came into the game ranked dead last in the Majors in free passes.
Only two batters didn't walk Friday. Royals starter Kyle Davies gave five free passes in the first 2 1/3 innings, and the Twins jumped on him for three runs in the third.
"We've had times when we've shown a lot patience, but we're a young team that's not consistent," Gardenhire said. "You live with it sometimes. Tonight we probably could've had more. We had a couple guys out there swing crazily, too."
Minnesota scored another run in the ninth, but missed on several opportunities to put the game away. The Twins left the bases loaded in the second and third innings.
Fortunately for Minnesota, the bullpen made Kansas City strand runners at key moments, too. Breslow said Thursday's off-day gave him and his fellow pitchers time to relax mentally and physically.
Some of the guys golfed. Others walked around Kansas City. They did whatever they could to stop thinking about the problems that were highlighted in Seattle, and it showed for at least one night.
"To be able to go out and do this on the road, it's a big confidence booster," Breslow said.
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.