Santana strong, but Twins shut out by Braves in series opener

MINNEAPOLIS — Ervin Santana gave the Minnesota Twins another strong start. He also gave contending teams around the majors more reason to take a closer look at the right-hander.

Santana pitched a seven-hitter for his second complete game in his last four turns, but the Twins lost 2-0 to Lucas Harrell and the Atlanta Braves in a matchup of the worst teams in the majors.

This untimely meeting came nearly 25 years after the Twins beat the Braves in a World Series that’s often been mentioned among the most dramatic in history. The 1991 anniversary celebration was launched by Gene Larkin, who had the winning hit in the 10th inning of Game 7, throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

Santana was prepared to emulate Jack Morris, who pitched all 10 innings of the famous Game 7. Sure, there was a little less on the line, but Santana (3-9) needed only 97 pitches to go the distance. He struck out five without a walk, and lobbied manager Paul Molitor for a return if the Twins were able to tie the game in the ninth.

"He was like, `Yeah, you got it,’" Santana said.

Santana lowered his ERA to 3.78. He likely will attract the attention of some contenders ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

"If I got a chance to do it and rest my bullpen, I will do it. Yeah, why not? Every time, I’ll take it," he said.

A.J. Pierzynski doubled and scored against the team that drafted him in the third round in 1994. Behind the plate, he helped guide Harrell (2-2) to his first scoreless start in the majors since June 9, 2013, for Houston. Pierzynski also threw out the fleet-footed Byron Buxton trying to steal third base in the third inning, the first time Buxton was caught in eight attempts this season.

Jim Johnson pitched a perfect ninth for his third save in six attempts, completing a five-hitter that stopped the Braves’ five-game losing streak. The Twins went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Harrell, making his fifth start this month but only his eighth in the majors since the end of the 2013 season, gave up four hits in six innings.

TRADE TALK

Interim general manager Rob Antony said he’s not calling other teams to try to trade Santana, who is making $13.5 million this year and is signed through 2018.

"If you trade him, you go into the offseason saying, `We really need another veteran. We need another guy we feel good about and are confident he’s going to be able to give us a good outing every five days,’" Antony said before the game. "I’m not sure that guy’s going to be out there, and if he is there’s going to be a lot of competition to get him."

Santana said he’s not thinking about the possibility of being dealt.

"Not even close," he said.

Manager Paul Molitor would prefer to keep Santana, naturally, but he acknowledged the reality of the team’s status this season.

"He’s experienced. He’s shown that he can go deep into a season as far as innings pitched and those types of things," Molitor said. "I’m sure that would be an appealing starter to add to any rotation."

MORE MEMORIES

Molitor, who was playing for Milwaukee at the time, had seats at the Metrodome near the first-base dugout for Games 6 and 7 of the 1991 World Series. He’s a native of St. Paul, just across the Mississippi River.

The Twins also revealed a mobile exhibit featuring the seat behind left field where Kirby Puckett’s winning home run in Game 6 was caught. The fan who grabbed it that night, Joe Reis, was at the game Tuesday for the unveiling. The actual seat that Reis sat in is now on display after years of storage.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: 3B Trevor Plouffe, progressing through baseball-like activities in his recovery from a broken rib, will take live batting practice by the weekend and could begin a rehab assignment next week. He has been on the DL since July 4.

UP NEXT

The Braves will send RHP Mike Foltynewicz (3-4, 3.79 ERA) to the mound Wednesday in trying to sweep the two-game set. RHP Tyler Duffey (5-7, 5.71 ERA) will pitch for the Twins.