MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire entered Saturday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles hoping to get starting pitcher Vance Worley deep into the game to save some innings from his recently taxed bullpen.
The bullpen, a strength all season, has thrown the sixth-most innings of relief in the American League this season with the fourth-best bullpen ERA, and was coming off a tough Friday night loss in which the relievers gave up six runs in four innings in a Baltimore come-from-behind, extra-inning win.
When Worley gave up what Gardenhire described as a “field goal” with three runs in the top of the first inning, thoughts of a long outing looked bleak.
But Worley — whose first-inning struggles continued — managed to pitch into the sixth inning and the bullpen again answered the call with 3-2/3 scoreless innings in Minnesota’s 8-5 win.
“That’s kind of why we ran Worley out there,” Gardenhire said of Worley pitching into the sixth. “We’re desperate for some innings right now with the way it’s going, all these games in a row and how much we’ve had to use our guys. We had a decision to make, send him back out for the sixth or go right to the pen, but we wanted him to try and at least get some big outs there. He stretched out, but we’re going to have to do that. Some starting pitching is going to have to eat up innings.”
Worley (1-4) went 5-1/3 innings to earn his first AL win since coming over in the offseason trade from the Philadelphia Phillies. He allowed 11 hits and five earned runs, but settled down after giving up three runs and four hits in the first inning in which four of the first five batters he faced reached.
Worley has allowed 15 runs and 20 hits in the first inning of his eight starts this season.
“Giving up more hits than I wanted to, first inning again ugly, but overall my team had my back today,” Worley said.
In particular the bullpen.
Without closer Glen Perkins, who was unavailable with a sore left side, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien and Jared Burton allowed one hit the rest of the way. Duensing entered and got a double play to end the sixth. Burton, pitching his third straight day for the first time since 2011 shoulder surgery, earned his first save.
Burton, who the team has tried to remain careful about in his return from surgery, set down Baltimore’s 2-3-4 hitters in the ninth to earn his first save since Aug. 4 of last season.
“That’s a big part of their lineup and Burty told me last night after the game he was feeling really good,” Gardenhire said. “He feels like he’s found his pitches, the ball’s coming out of his hand really good. He told me, ‘I’ll get the save tomorrow night for you.’ So, fine with me, he got it.”
Burton said he didn’t think about the significance of pitching for the third straight day, but he’s feeling good and doesn’t feel any reservations about going without limitations.
“Last year it felt great all year, but it was just a little if I did throw that second day it was just a little hesistant to challenge that third day,” Burton said. “But another year removed from that, I feel like it’s getting better and better. So, I didn’t see any problem going tonight. I felt great.”
Burton trusts his shoulder and he’s been honest with the team, and the team is trusting the big righthander.
“Coming off shoulder surgery last year, they kind of stayed away from it,” Burton said of pitching on three straight nights. “I’ve worked hard to get my shoulder and my strength and everything back to where it was int. It being a little chillier tonight it took a little longer to get loose, but just like another night I felt great.”
And he finished off another big game from the Twins’ bullpen.