In more ways than one, the Minnesota Twins’ weekend trip to the nation’s capital was a sojourn of botched opportunities.
The Washington Nationals’ top two players watched from the dugout, but Minnesota went 1-2 for the second consecutive three-game road series. The Twins held a commanding lead midway through the series’ curtain-closer, but Washington responded with four unanswered runs en route to a doubleheader sweep. Minnesota had a chance to enter its longest homestand of the season having won 10 of its past 12 contests. Instead, the Twins will return to Target Field on Tuesday with a four-losses-in-five-games hangover.
Shaking it off will be integral to any hopes of ascending from the American League Central Division’s bottom tier.
“Very frustrating game for us,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said after Sunday night’s 5-4 loss.
The final bout of angst came courtesy of a Washington run in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings of the Tropical Storm Andrea-induced twinbill’s nightcap. Back-to-back doubles by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond erased a Twins advantage that had stood at 4-1 thanks to a two-run double by catcher Chris Hermann in the second and a two-run home run from shortstop Pedro Florimon in the third.
But Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno couldn’t make it past the fifth inning, and Anthony Swarzak took over and surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs in Minnesota’s 10th one-run setback this season.
A Twins player manned each corner with two outs in the top of the ninth, but Josh Willingham sent a harmless pop-up into foul territory just beyond the first-base line, capping a weekend where Minnesota went 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position.
“We couldn’t come up with one more big hit,” Gardenhire said. “We hit some rockets, and you know what? They’ve got people standing right there. It’s just one of those nights where we hit some balls right on the screws, and they seemed to be at them tonight.”
The Twins entered the weekend batting an AL-worst .254 with runners in scoring position.
Even with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper on the disabled list, Minnesota could only generate one extra-innings win in Washington D.C. The Twins continue interleague play with a three-game home series against Philadelphia that begins at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday.
Spanning the spectrum: In reversing from friend to foe in relation to his former Twins teammates, Nationals centerfielder Denard Span got the last laugh.
Traded last November for minor-league prospect Alex Meyer, Span fouled a pitch off his foot in Saturday’s 4-3 Twins victory and sat for Sunday’s opener. He returned to the lineup in the series’ final contest and went 1-for-4 with a two-run triple that knotted the score at 4 in the bottom of the sixth.
Span carried a .274 batting average into the weekend, a number on par with his performance in the Twin Cities that ultimately led to his trading. Only in 2009, his second year in the majors, did Span hit better than .300 (.311).
Shut down: Facing a lineup featuring zero familiarity with his pitching arsenal, Washington Nationals ace Jordan Zimmermann slammed the door shut on Minnesota’s chances of an interleague sweep on the road.
Hard. And fast.
Zimmermann blew through a Twins batting order bereft of Joe Mauer and Willingham in Game 1 on Sunday, allowing only two hits and striking out eight, which ties his season high. Minnesota was shut out for the fifth time this year.
Zimmermann provided the Nationals some much-needed salve in the 7-0 victory. Their 4-3, 11-inning loss to Minnesota Saturday marked their 12th setback in 18 outings.
“He was pretty good,” Gardenhire said of Zimmermann, who dropped his ERA to 2.00 and lasted seven innings for the ninth time in 13 starts this season. “He’s throwing the ball really well, and we kind of missed a few plays out there and didn’t get too many hits.
“It was the first time we had the opportunity to face him. He’s a good pitcher.”
The Twins’ plate patience ran up the Stevens Point, Wis., native’s pitch count early, but a mixture of his four-seam fastball and elusive curveball allowed him to finish off batters. All six Minnesota outs in the second and third innings came via a swinging strikeout, and the zest in Zimmermann’s right arm never dwindled.
Even on his 111th and final pitch of the afternoon, he hit 96 mph on the radar gun in another ring-up, this one against Chris Colabello to end the top of the seventh.
By then, Zimmermann had plenty of run support courtesy of a five-run fifth inning.
“He’s been great all year,” said Washington left fielder Steve Lombardozzi Jr., the son of former Twins second baseman Steve Lombardozzi. “You know what you’re gonna get from him. It was good we got him some runs this outing.
“We’ve been struggling to get some runs across, so having a big inning like that helps.”
Big fifth: That big inning almost never happened.
With two outs and a runner on first in Game 1, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman smacked a double to right field that put Nationals on second and third. Adam LaRoche then cranked a single off the chest of Twins second baseman Brian Dozier to score Lombardozzi from third. Ian Desmond followed with a two-run single to chase starter Scott Diamond, but reliever Ryan Pressly coughed up a two-run double to Anthony Rendon.
The final damage: five runs on four hits, all with two outs, and a 7-0 deficit.
Gardenhire said LaRoche’s sharp grounder, which carried Dozier two steps to his right, shouldn’t have been ruled a hit.
“That’s an error, and we just missed the ball,” Gardenhire said. “I know they called it a hit, but this is the big leagues, folks. That’s an error.”
A season-low-tying three-hit effort didn’t help matters.
Other notes: Highly-touted prospect Miguel Sano was called up Sunday from Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain after hitting two home runs in an 8-6 loss to Bradenton. The third baseman hit .330 with 16 homers and 48 RBI in the Florida State League. OF Eddie Rosario (.329, 6 HR) was promoted alongside Sano. . . . Deduno failed to record a win for the first time in three starts, surrendering two earned runs on three hits and striking out four. . . . A cloudburst over Washington caused a 12-minute rain delay in Game 2 with one out in the bottom of the fifth and Minnesota leading 4-2. . . . In the day’s first game, Pressly left the mound in the bottom of the sixth with some tricep soreness, but Gardenhire said the Twins medical staff examined him, and everything checked out OK. . . . Hicks left Game 2 with a left hamstring strain and will be evaluated Monday, Gardenhire said. . . . Entering with a 4-4 record and 4.66 ERA, Diamond gave up 10 or more hits for the second time this season. The Twins have lost four of the past six games he’s started. . . . Minnesota RHP P.J. Walters (2-1, 3.00 ERA) is scheduled to match up with Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels (2-9, 4.56) on Tuesday.