Twins’ Diamond feels ‘a little inconsistent’

MINNEAPOLIS — Left-hander Scott Diamond is still arguably the Minnesota Twins’ best starting pitcher currently in the rotation, but even Diamond has come back to earth a bit after his impressive run earlier in the season.

The 26-year-old Diamond improved to 10-5 on the season on Aug. 6, but has won once since then. He was on the wrong side of a 9-1 rout by the Kansas City Royals at Target Field Tuesday, which dropped Diamond to 11-7 on the season.

Diamond was hit with four earned runs in six innings on Tuesday, the third straight start in which he’s allowed four or more runs. Diamond also gave up 10 hits to the Royals, which matched the most he’s allowed in his young career.

“I just feel a little inconsistent right now,” Diamond said after the loss. “I feel like my stuff is getting where it needs to be, but my fastball location’s a little off. My command’s just a little off. It’s just something you’ve got to battle with.”

It’s been an interesting stretch for Diamond since late August. He was ejected from a game on Aug. 23 after throwing behind the head of Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton one inning after Twins catcher Joe Mauer was hit by a pitch. Diamond lasted just 2 1/3 innings in that game before he was tossed for the first time in his career.

After that, Diamond made his next start against Seattle on Aug. 28 and gave up a season-high five runs on seven hits in a 5-2 Mariners win. Following that start, Diamond served the six-game suspension he received for throwing at Hamilton.

The suspension, coupled with the fact that the Twins have since moved to a six-man starting rotation, has translated to an irregular schedule for Diamond after he grew comfortable to the normal five-man rotation. Still, he wasn’t blaming Tuesday’s outing on that.

“I’m learning from it,” he said. “I’ve just kind of been in that five-game rotation all year, so it is a bit of an adjustment. It’s still no excuse. I’ve got to be able to control the adrenaline and the competitive spirit. Tonight I just didn’t do it.”

Two of the four runs Diamond allowed Tuesday should have never scored. With two outs and two on in the top of the second inning, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to left field — only Minnesota left fielder Josh Willingham never saw the ball.

Willingham started in on the ball before realizing it was behind him. Cain raced around the bases for a triple as Jeff Francoeur and Eric Hosmer came around to score for a 3-0 Royals lead.

Diamond retired the next batter on a fly out to right, but the damage had already been done. Willingham said the lights didn’t play a role in him losing sight of the ball; it simply had to do with the sky at dusk.

“Stuff like that’s going to happen,” Diamond said. “With playing in an open sky and twilight and night games, that’s what’s going to happen. We were able to come back and get the next out, which was huge.”

After the three-run second inning, Diamond allowed just one more run in his six innings of work. Royals left fielder Alex Gordon led off the third inning with a triple — one of three triples hit by Kansas City on Tuesday — and later came home on a sacrifice fly by catcher Salvador Perez.

But Diamond was able to strand runners on third base in three different innings. Lorenzo Cain was stuck on third in the top of the first inning, Billy Butler couldn’t score from third with two outs in the fifth, and Cain again was left 90 feet from home plate to end the sixth inning.

While Diamond didn’t have his best outing Tuesday — his three walks were a season high — he showed that even on an off night, he can still be effective. His start may have ended in a loss, but his ability to limit the damage was a positive sign.

“He got out of some big situations,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Diamond. “He didn’t have his greatest stuff, but I was happy with the way he hung in there. He got deep into the game. He needed that.”

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