Gardenhire: Scotty pitched his tail off today

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said earlier this month that he’s not a fan of interleague play because he doesn’t like the fact that his pitchers have to swing a bat. But with left-hander Scott Diamond due up in the top of the 8th inning, Gardenhire let his starting pitcher swing away.

The move made sense, as Diamond cruised through seven innings, allowing just one run to take a 2-1 lead into the eighth. In his third at-bat of the day, Diamond struck out looking for the second out of the eighth, his second strikeout of the game. But the Twins obviously weren’t relying on Diamond’s bat in that situation; they wanted him back on the mound for the bottom of the inning.

With a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, Diamond allowed a leadoff single to Wilson Valdez. Two pitches later, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto — a fellow Canadian — took Diamond deep for a go-ahead two-run homer, putting the Reds up 3-2. Diamond had previously struck out Votto twice, but Votto got the best of the Twins left-hander in their final meeting.

It was the eighth home run allowed by Diamond this season, and it was one that appeared as if it might sink the Twins in Sunday’s series finale.

Diamond finished the eighth inning without allowing another hit, and he was let off the hook in the top of the ninth by Twins outfielder Josh Willingham. After Joe Mauer batted Reds closer Aroldis Chapman for a one-out double, Willingham got a hold of a Chapman fastball and tagged a two-run blast to left field. Willingham’s ninth-inning homer held up as the Twins won 4-3 and Diamond improved to 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA this year.

“He used all of his pitches. You’re facing some pretty potent hitters over there, as Votto showed you,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Diamond. “. . . Scotty, goodness gracious, he pitched his tail off today. I’m really happy he got the win today. He earned it out there.”

Diamond was 5-1 with a 1.61 ERA in his first seven starts, but then went 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in his two starts prior to Sunday. In those two straight losses, Diamond struck out just two total batters — one in each start. He also walked four total, two per game, as he gave up eight earned runs in 11-1/3 innings.

Sunday, Diamond struck out a career-high seven batters while also pitching a career-high eight innings on just 82 pitches, a season low. He also walked just one batter, but the two-run homer to Votto proved costly before Willingham’s ninth-inning heroics.

“Scott Diamond pitched a great game today,” Willingham said.

It was important for Diamond to go deep into Sunday’s game, as Minnesota’s bullpen has been taxed as of late — and all season, for that matter. On Saturday, spot starter Brian Duensing lasted just three innings, meaning Anthony Swarzak had to pitch four innings in relief. Minnesota used four relievers in Friday’s series opener after starter Nick Blackburn’s day was done after five innings.

With Diamond going eight innings, the Twins needed just one pitcher — right-hander Jared Burton — to close out the ninth for the win. As he has been since his call-up from Triple-A Rochester in early May of this season, Diamond was once again a shot in the arm for a rotation that has struggled all year. The Twins will need more outings like Sunday’s from Diamond the rest of the way.

“We always say if we pitch like that and our starter gives us a chance, we have a chance to win baseball games,” Gardenhire said. “It showed again today. Scott Diamond was wonderful.”

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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