Back to square one for Twins’ Scott Diamond

MINNEAPOLIS — Scott Diamond thought he had things figured out after a demotion to Triple A in early August helped him get his confidence back.

In his first major league start since then, it was back to square one for the Twins left-hander.

Diamond was tagged with the loss Thursday as Oakland scored five runs (four earned) on six hits as Minnesota fell 8-2 to the visiting Athletics. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, his shortest start since July 21, as he dropped to 5-11 with a 5.61 ERA this year.

“I still saw some good signs,” Diamond said. “I think the biggest flaw today was I wasn’t able to locate inside at all. I was able to move some feet, but I don’t think it was as effective as it could have been. I think that’s what I’m going to take and work on in the pen and keep my chin up because I still feel like I’m not that far off.”

After his demotion to Rochester, Diamond went 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in six Triple-A starts. He was hoping to carry that success back to the majors and possibly return to the pitcher he was in 2012 when he led the Twins’ starting staff with a 12-9 record and a 3.54 ERA.

But against Oakland’s free-swinging lineup, Diamond was trying to be too fine with his pitches. He nibbled on the edges of the plate and wasn’t able to put hitters away despite working ahead in the count.

Diamond walked just two batters Thursday but also had just one strikeout. While Diamond has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, he hasn’t often struggled to put batters like he did against Oakland.

“I think I did a good job away from righties, but working in on them I think I nibbled a little too much,” Diamond said. “I was trying to be a little too effective. They’re a big pull team. They’re really aggressive, so I think with that being in the back of my mind I was being a little too fine in there rather than really attacking them on the inner half.”

Diamond cruised through two scoreless innings to start the game but ran into trouble in the third. Four A’s batters came around to score in the four-run frame, including two runs on a standup triple by Yoenis Cespedes. With Diamond ahead in the count 0-2, Cespedes smashed an 81 mph curveball off the wall in center field, scoring Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie.

Twins center fielder Alex Presley took an awkward route on Cespedes’ triple, but Diamond took the blame for his approach to Cespedes in that situation.

“I felt like I did a good job of getting ahead of hitters, throwing strikes, but I wasn’t able to put anybody away,” Diamond said. “I think that was the story behind my game today.”

Diamond was given the hook in the fifth inning after yet another hit by Cespedes. Earlier in the inning, Josh Donaldson drove in Coco Crisp on a base hit to left for the fifth run allowed by Diamond. This one was unearned, however, as Crisp reached on an error. Still, Diamond couldn’t put away Donaldson on a full count with two outs in the inning.

“I think we saw the ball starting getting elevated, and when it started getting elevated the ball started flying all over the place,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So it just looked like he started elevating the baseball the second time around, and when he did that the ball started flying.”

With several question marks lingering regarding Minnesota’s starting rotation next year, Diamond likely has some work to do to prove he deserves a spot in 2014. After Thursday’s disappointing performance, though, Diamond insisted he’s not thinking that far ahead.

“I can’t focus on that right now,” Diamond said. “I’ve got to focus and look at it as still making that transition back up and doing what has made me successful here and what’s made me successful in Triple A. Going 4 2/3 (innings) is not it. I’ve got to go deeper into ball games, try and keep my pitch count down and really focus on just getting quick outs.”

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