After nearly two weeks of solid starting pitching, the Twins rotation hit a wall in the first two games against the Angels. Things didn’t get much better in the series finale.
Minnesota right-hander Ricky Nolasco couldn’t play the role of stopper for the Twins, as he allowed six runs on 11 hits and Los Angeles swept the three-game series with a 6-4 win on Thursday. It raised Nolasco’s ERA to 5.74 and ran Minnesota’s losing streak to three games after previously winning four in a row.
Any hope the Twins had of winning the final game of the series seemed to be dashed early when Nolasco found himself in a deficit from the get-go.
"Early, it looked like he was fighting through it," Gardenhire said. "He battles. His stuff is not overpowering right now. It all gets back to locating his fastball, more than anything else. When we see him locate his fastball and use that a little bit more then everything seems to work out better."
Nolasco indeed labored early, needing 28 pitches to get out of the first inning. The Angels tagged him for two first-inning runs to take a 2-0 lead. Albert Pujols drove in the first run of the game on a base hit to left field that scored Kole Calhoun. Pujols then stole second base and scored on what was ruled a double for Erick Aybar. He lifted a two-out fly ball to shallow left field. Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon appeared to have lost the ball in the sun as it hit off his glove, allowing Pujols to score.
Los Angeles put up two more runs off Nolasco in the third. Pujols was again a contributor on offense for the Angles, doubling in Mike Trout for a 3-0 lead. Josh Hamilton later drove in Pujols with a base hit to center, putting Nolasco and the Twins in a 4-0 hole.
Nolasco seemed to settle in after that as he didn’t allow a run in the next three innings. But Minnesota sent him back out for the seventh, hoping to get one more inning out of the veteran right-hander, as he trailed 4-1.
Instead, Nolasco lasted just two batters into the seventh, giving up a pair of singles to Efren Navarro and Calhoun. Both runners eventually scored and were charged to Nolasco when Trout doubled off reliever Matt Guerrier. That closed the line on Nolasco’s day as he gave up six runs, the most he’s allowed since May 25.
"He settled in pretty decent through the middle part of the (game) and at least got us past the fifth into the sixth or whatever it was," Gardenhire said of Nolasco. "Then the first couple guys got on there and Matty couldn’t get an out. . . . Offensively, we didn’t do too awful much."
In the series opener Tuesday, Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson — who had developed into one of Minnesota’s most consistent starters — had his worst outing of the season. He matched his season high by allowing seven runs in just two innings, which matched his shortest start of the year. One day later, longtime minor leaguer Yohan Pino went just three innings as the Angels scored five runs against the 30-year-old right-hander.
The back-to-back short outings by Minnesota’s rotation left the bullpen plenty taxed. The Twins expected Nolasco, who has a reputation as an innings-eater, to go deep into Thursday’s game. While he did get into the seventh, it wasn’t easy — or pretty.
Fresh off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels, the Twins will need to bounce back this weekend against the Texas Rangers before returning to Target Field on Monday. To come back home with any sort of momentum, Minnesota will need its rotation to pitch better in Arlington than it did in Anaheim.