Despite loss, Gardenhire happy with Vasquez

Esmerling Vasquez has had a cup of coffee in the major leagues before, appearing in 31 total games with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2009-11 seasons. But it wasn’t until Sunday in Kansas City that the Twins right-hander took the mound to start a game in the majors.

Not only was Sunday the first career MLB start for Vasquez, but it was also his Minnesota Twins debut. Vasquez had spent the entirety of the 2012 season with Triple-A Rochester before the Twins called him up Saturday.

In his first big league start, Vasquez was hit with his 11th big league loss as Minnesota fell 6-4 on Sunday as the Twins failed to complete the three-game sweep.

“Vasquez was good for his first outing out there,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He was misfiring a little bit early, but he settled in pretty decent. … A good performance by him. He gave us an opportunity.”

Vasquez lasted 5 2/3 innings in Sunday’s game and exited during a 4-4 tie with a runner on second base with two outs in the sixth inning. The runner on second, Eric Hosmer, came around to score on a two-out hit by Tony Abreu off reliever Tyler Robertson, with the run charged to Vasquez. It closed the book on Vasquez’s line —five earned runs on seven hits with a pair of strikeouts and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.

Vasquez’s worst inning was the second, when he was tagged for three runs as the Royals took a 3-2 lead. The inning got off to a shaky start for Vasquez, as he walked leadoff man Salvador Perez on five pitches. Mike Moustakas then singled and Lorenzo Cain walked to load the bases with no outs.

Perez came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Hosmer, and Moustakas and Cain executed the double steal with Tony Abreu at the plate and one out. Abreu then singled to right field, driving in Moustakas and Cain to put the Royals ahead.

“He’s a good pitcher. He’s got three years of experience, and he did what he had to do,” Moustakas said of Vasquez. “He came in and ate up innings for them and did a good job. We were just able to get those hits here and there. He mixed his pitches well and he kept the ball down in the zone well. He threw a heck of a ballgame for them.”

During his Twins debut, Vasquez struggled at times with his location — including consecutive pitches to the backstop in one at-bat in the sixth inning. Of the 79 pitches he threw, 52 were for strikes.

“In the last inning out there, it looked like he got the ball up and threw some balls to the backstop and got a little nervous about that,” Gardenhire said. “… We’ll take the performance from him and move on from there and see how he does in his next few.”

The Twins claimed Vasquez off waivers from Arizona last September. He made 31 appearances for Rochester — including eight starts — and posted a 2.78 ERA with 98 strikeouts and 39 walks in 100 1/3 innings.

Prior to this year, Vasquez hadn’t started a game since 2008 when he made 15 starts for Triple-A Tucson. In his 31 relief appearances in the majors with the Diamondbacks, Vasquez went 5-10 with an ERA of 4.66 in 137 innings, with 120 strikeouts and 80 walks. He moved to the Rochester rotation in July and made eight starts.

The Twins will move forward with a six-man rotation, as P.J. Walters returns from the disabled list. Still, Vasquez should get a few more starts before the end of the 2012 season. With Minnesota in desperate need of starting pitching heading into 2013, the 28-year-old Vasquez will have a chance to audition for a spot in next year’s rotation.

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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