Diamond looks sharp, but it’s not enough

Perhaps fittingly, left-hander Scott Diamond was on the hill to start the final game of the Minnesota Twins’ 2012 season Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was fitting for several reasons. It meant that Minnesota’s most consistent starting pitcher got to toe the rubber one more time, reminding the Twins that they have at least one spot in next year’s rotation locked up.

It was also fitting because Diamond, a native of Guelph, Ontario, had the opportunity to pitch in his home country of Canada for the first time in his major league career. Unfortunately for the 26-year-old Diamond, he picked up the loss as the Twins fell 2-1 in the season finale to the Blue Jays.

With Wednesday’s loss, Diamond finished the 2012 season with a 12-9 record and a 3.54 ERA, easily the best among all Twins starters.

“A heck of a year for that young man for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Diamond. “He did a great job and threw the ball very well again today. We just ran up against a guy that was really good on the other side and really didn’t give us much of a chance.”

Diamond’s first start in Canada lasted just five innings, his shortest outing since going five innings on Sept. 4 against the White Sox. On Wednesday, Diamond gave up five hits while striking out three and walking just one Blue Jays batter on 80 pitches.

In the bottom of the first inning, Diamond took a liner off the leg when Rajai Davis hit the ball back up the middle. The ball ricocheted off Diamond’s leg to first baseman Chris Parmelee for the out. Diamond stayed in the game, but Gardenhire said Diamond’s leg became sore as the game went on.

“The ball had got him off the calf. He tightened up after about the third inning,” Gardenhire said. “He told us his calf was starting to tighten up. He finished the fourth and fifth and we weren’t going to let him go back out there after something like that.”

The only two runs Diamond allowed Wednesday came in the third inning. After Anthony Gose hit a two-out triple off Diamond, he came home to score on a base hit by Davis. One batter later, Davis stole second base and came around to score Toronto’s second run on a single by Adeiny Hechavarria.

With the five innings pitched Wednesday, Diamond finished the season with 173 innings at the major league level. Combined with his 34 2/3 innings pitched at Triple-A Rochester and Diamond pitched a career-high 207 innings in 2012. His previous high was 162 innings, which came last year (39 innings with the Twins, 123 with the Red Wings).

The loss dropped the Twins to 66-96 on the season, the second consecutive 90-plus loss season. While there weren’t a ton of bright spots for Minnesota in 2012, Diamond was certainly one of them. After beginning the year at Triple-A, he was called up in early May and quickly became the most consistent pitcher in the rotation.

Among the many question marks facing the Twins this offseason, the rotation is perhaps among the biggest. But as Diamond showed all season — and again on Wednesday — he appears to be the only sure thing in Minnesota’s 2013 rotation.

“He was a real bright spot for us this year, taking the ball every fifth day,” Twins catcher Joe Mauer said of Diamond last week. “He has a pretty good idea. He definitely does a lot of work studying film and studying the other hitters, and kind of one of the more in-depth conversations when we go over a lineup that next day. So that’s real good that he pays attention to those things and he wants to learn.”

Following Wednesday’s loss, the Twins now enter an important offseason as they try to turn around a team that has finished last in the American League in back-to-back years. Along with Diamond, Minnesota had a few highlights on offense — including Mauer playing a career-high number of games and Josh Willingham setting career highs in home runs (35) and RBI (110).

Still, it wasn’t enough. Inconsistent starting pitching plagued Minnesota from the beginning. Now, the Twins are hoping they can put more pieces around Diamond in next year’s rotation.

“A heck of a year by a few guys,” Gardenhire said. “Joe Mauer had a damn good year and Willingham and guys like that. (Trevor Plouffe) hit some home runs. Some good things happened, but as I told the guys in there, not enough good things.”

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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