MINNEAPOLIS — Samuel Deduno didn’t buckle under the pressure Thursday. He barely even batted an eye.
The Twins right-hander was walking a tightrope as he worked with a one-run lead in the seventh inning. The Kansas City Royals had runners on the corners with just one out against Deduno, who had cruised through the first six innings.
Needing a big out, Deduno got one by striking out Royals right fielder David Lough on three pitches — all cutters — for the second out of the inning.
“That was a big strikeout for us,” Deduno said. “I wanted to strike him out. That was a big out.”
That allowed Deduno to breathe a bit. Three pitches later he escaped the jam by getting Elliot Johnson to ground out to short. That would be the last pitch Deduno would throw Thursday and his performance was good enough to earn the win in Minnesota’s 3-1 victory.
“Sammy was fantastic,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “(He was) working the strike zone, pounding it, using his fastball.”
Early on, the Royals couldn’t do anything against Deduno. In the first inning, only one ball left the infield — a fly ball out to center field to end the inning. Kansas City’s first hit of the game was a dribbler to second base by Alex Gordon.
Deduno then induced groundouts by Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer, both of whom tapped the ball between Deduno and first baseman Justin Morneau.
“The ball was moving all over the place,” Gardenhire said. “You could see that from their hitters in the first inning. We thought their whole goal was to attack Morneau at first base. They kept rolling over so many balls. He just kept throwing that sinking breaking ball in there and they kept rolling balls over towards first. He pitched really well.”
A year ago, walks were an issue for Deduno, who averaged 6.0 walks per nine innings and 1.08 strikeouts per walk. Those numbers have been much better in 2013 — a rate of 3.2 walks per nine innings entering Thursday’s game. He walked just one Royals batter but negated it by inducing a double play.
The key has been Deduno’s ability to get what he calls his “crazy fastball” over the plate for a strike. He’s been able to do so all year with his breaking pitch, but now his fastball is finding the strike zone, too. That’s led to Deduno getting ahead of more batters and, as a result, being more efficient.
“I think you can see he’s more in control on the mound,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not falling all over the place. He’s staying on his line to home plate. … His fastball was moving all over the place tonight.”
Deduno needed just 87 pitches to get through seven innings, which matched a career high. The Twins were set to send Deduno back out of the top of the eighth, but the bottom half of the seventh inning wore on as Minnesota scored another run and forced Kansas City to make a pitching change.
As a result, Minnesota instead took Deduno out after seven innings and turned to set-up man Jared Burton for the eighth. Deduno was ready, too, but the Twins chose not to risk it.
“We always get nervous about the guy getting a little stiff and walking the first guy or something like that crazy happens,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got Burton for that role. We’ve got confidence in him to send him out there.”
Minnesota scored a run in the bottom of the seventh when Pedro Florimon’s sacrifice fly drove in Trevor Plouffe from third base. That meant the bullpen had a two-run lead to protect after taking over for Deduno, and Burton and closer Glen Perkins each pitched a scoreless inning to do just that.
With Thursday’s win, Deduno improved to 4-2 on the year. He also lowered his ERA from 3.72 to 3.32 after allowing just one earned run over seven innings. Deduno has now made seven starts since his call-up in late May and has proven to be one of Minnesota’s more consistent pitchers in the rotation despite being wildly effective at times.
“He’s got so much late movement. It’s hard; everything looks like it’s going to be there and it kind of darts late,” Morneau said. “You saw some guys mishit some balls. Some guys really looked like they think they’re going to hit it and all of a sudden in moves late on them. He did a really nice job tonight. That was what we needed.”