MINNEAPOLIS — Through four innings, Scott Diamond’s 2013 debut was about as smooth as the left-hander could have asked for.
Then, Diamond hung a pitch to Marlon Byrd to lead off the fifth inning and things unraveled for the 26-year-old pitcher. He wound up allowing four runs in the inning and recorded just one out in the fifth before his season debut was over. Diamond took the loss as Minnesota fell to the New York Mets by a 4-2 final at Target Field.
“It was good to get back in front of the crowd and the fans and everything and just be back on the bench,” Diamond said of Saturday’s game, which had an announced temperature of 35 degrees at first pitch. “I was hoping for better. … The biggest thing for me today was getting in a rhythm and just keeping a strong pace. It was cold, but battling the elements, I felt like I threw pretty well. I learned a lot from the mistakes I made today and hope to build off them.”
Diamond missed the first two weeks of the season after rehabbing from offseason elbow surgery. The arthroscopic procedure prevented Diamond from pitching in any Grapefruit League games this spring, and he stayed back in Fort Myers for more rehab work as the rest of the Twins traveled north to begin the season.
Amid a rotation that was the worst in the American League in 2012, Diamond was one of the few bright spots. He led the Twins with a record of 12-9 and an ERA of 3.54. Diamond exhibited pinpoint control in his 27 starts as he walked 31 while striking out 90.
Saturday against the Mets, Diamond struck out just one but did not walk a batter. The fifth inning was his undoing, as he allowed six straight hits to end the inning.
“I think about the fourth or the fifth was when I was really starting to warm up and get used to being back on the mound,” Diamond said. “I was aggressive in that fifth inning, and that’s kind of my downfall is sometimes I’m too aggressive.”
The only out Diamond recorded in the fifth came when New York first baseman Ike Davis tried to stretch a base hit to left into a double. He was gunned out at second base following Byrd’s leadoff homer.
After Davis was tagged out, Diamond gave up four straight hits to Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada, Collin Cowgill and Daniel Murphy before giving way to reliever Josh Roenicke with one out in the fifth.
“I think the inning kind of sped up on me a little bit,” Diamond said of the four-run fourth inning. “I’ve got to do a better job of executing a little better and just slowing it down so that we can try to get out of it and I can keep going a little deeper.”
While Diamond became the ace of Minnesota’s staff last year, he was opposing a young pitcher who is quickly becoming the Mets’ ace. Right-hander Matt Harvey took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Twins first baseman Justin Morneau ended it with a two-out solo home run in the seventh.
Harvey outdueled Diamond on Saturday as he allowed just two hits and one run in eight innings. He also struck out six Twins batters to improve to 3-0 on the young season.
“He threw the ball really well. He was able to keep our guys off balance,” Diamond said. “For throwing as strong as he did for eight innings, he did really well.”
Saturday’s outing marked Diamond’s shortest start since going just 2 1/3 innings on Aug. 23 of last year against Texas. The Twins were hoping he could go deeper into Saturday’s game after Friday’s starter, Vance Worley, exited in the second inning with nobody out. Instead, a combination of Roenicke, Casey Fien and Jared Burton combined to pitch 4 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen in relief of Diamond.
Diamond said Friday that he was hoping to pick up where he left off last season. Saturday’s start didn’t exactly follow that trajectory, but there were signs of encouragement in the left-hander’s 2013 debut.
“He got some pitches up there in the fifth inning, but a nice performance,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Diamond. “He was kind of cruising right along and doing everything OK. … We’ll take that for his first performance of the year with us.”