Burnett key to Twins’ consistent bullpen

If any player has been underrated for the Minnesota Twins this season, it very well may be reliever Alex Burnett.

The last time the right-handed Burnett gave up a run was May 23. He extended that scoreless streak to 16 total innings by tossing 1-1/3 shutout innings in the Twins’ 6-4 win Monday in Detroit.

Burnett entered Monday’s game with two outs in the seventh inning, replacing reliever Anthony Swarzak. After Detroit sent up left-handed hitting Brennan Boesch as a pinch hitter, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire brought in Burnett to take over for the fellow right-hander Swarzak.

A look at Burnett’s splits helps explain the decision to have him face Boesch instead of one of Minnesota’s left-handed relievers. Prior to Monday, left-handers were batting .170 against Burnett. Right-handers, meanwhile, were hitting .230 against Burnett. The slugging percentages? Lefties slugged just .170, while righties were slugging .345 before Monday.

Sure enough, Burnett thrived against the lefty Boesch for the final out of the seventh inning. Burnett struck out Boesch on three pitches — two curveballs for strikes before getting him swinging on a 94 mph fastball.

Burnett did allow a base runner in the eighth inning as he walked Jhonny Peralta on five pitches to lead off the inning. After that, though, Burnett struck out Alex Avila, got Ramon Santiago to fly out to center and induced an inning-ending ground ball out by Austin Jackson.

Through May 23 this season, Burnett had allowed nine runs (eight earned) on 25 hits in 24-2/3 innings. Since then, he has now given up just four hits and walked four while striking out seven in 16 shutout innings. His resurgence has been key for Minnesota’s bullpen, which has been perhaps the most consistent unit for the Twins this year.

Burnett’s scoreless outing was just part of yet another impressive day for the Twins’ relievers. After starter Liam Hendriks allowed four runs in four innings, he was lifted for Swarzak, who pitched 2-2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out two.

After Burnett picked up where Swarzak left off, he passed the torch to left-hander Glen Perkins, who earned his third save of the season by pitching a scoreless ninth. Twins closer Matt Capps is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, so Perkins and Jared Burton have both been stepping into the ninth-inning role.

“Our bullpen did a super job,” Gardenhire said after Monday’s win. “They came in and every one of them did what they had to do to get through it. Swarzy and Burny and all those guys, and Perk at the end against a tough lineup that just keeps running dangerous hitters at you.”

No. 900 for Gardy: Monday’s victory was a special one for Gardenhire, as it was his 900th as the Twins’ manager.

Gardenhire is now in his 11th season at the helm as he took over as Minnesota’s skipper in 2002, following in the footsteps of Tom Kelly. Gardenhire won 90-plus games in each of his first three seasons at the helm, leading the Twins to American League Central titles each year.

In his first 10 seasons, Gardenhire had just two losing seasons — a 79-83 season in 2007 and last year’s 63-99 record. Monday’s win improved the Twins’ record to 34-45.

Winning 900 games speaks about the longevity Gardenhire has been able to attain in Minnesota. In this day and age, 11 seasons as the manager of the same team is a rare feat.

“First, you have to have the opportunity to be here,” Gardenhire said. “. . . My coaching staff has been fantastic. Our minor league system, the work that they put in in sending players up here, they give you these opportunities to win ballgames, so I tip my hat to this organization. This is 900 wins for our organization, and I just happen to be the manager. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this organization and proud to be a part of it.”

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has spent his entire 10-year career with Gardenhire and had high praise for his manager after Monday’s win.

“We’re lucky to play for him. I can’t really imagine playing for anybody else,” Morneau said. “You see teams go through change and four or five managers throughout a career. I think I’ve been very fortunate to play for a manager like Gardy for as long as I have.”

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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