Twins’ Scott Diamond scales mental hurdle versus Yankees

MINNEAPOLIS — Given the way his last several starts had gone, Twins left-hander Scott Diamond knew he needed a strong outing Monday.

The final score might not have indicated it — Minnesota fell 10-4 to the New York Yankees at Target Field — but Diamond took a step in the right direction with Monday’s start. For the first time since May 7 Diamond pitched into the seventh inning. He left after 6 2/3 innings of work, but also exited the game with a lead.

Minnesota’s bullpen didn’t do Diamond any favors, however, as the Yankees scored three runs in the eighth and four more in the ninth to dash Diamond’s best start in nearly a month.

“I’m happy with the improvement personally, but we lost,” Diamond said. “It’s frustrating just the way it all unraveled a little bit. Hopefully we can make an adjustment and come back tomorrow and be a little more competitive in the series.”

The only player who really did damage against Diamond on Monday was Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who hit a pair of homers off the Twins left-hander. The first came with two outs in the first inning when Cano took Diamond deep to straightaway center for a 435-foot blast.

Two innings later, with a runner on first, Cano again went deep, this time hitting it to the opposite field for a 2-run shot. That tied the game at 3-all after Diamond was spotted a lead by his offense.

“All I was thinking that first at-bat was just keep the ball down and I threw it right into his wheelhouse,” Diamond said. “The second time, he was just really aggressive, and not a good pitch by me. A real tough out. He definitely spoiled us tonight.”

The fifth and sixth innings have given Diamond the most trouble this year. Last time out, he pitched into the sixth inning against Miami but lasted just one batter before he was pulled. The outing before that, against the White Sox, he again started the sixth inning but did not finish it.

Monday, Diamond not only pitched into the sixth but he also escaped it unscathed. The only blemish in the fifth or sixth innings was a one-out walk to Travis Hafner in the sixth. But Diamond induced groundouts by Zoilo Almonte and Lyle Overbay to end the inning.

“Those have been pretty tough for me lately,” Diamond said of the fifth and sixth innings. “I think to just work through those, get the first batter, even when I walked Hafner, just to calm myself down and continue to push through it, that was a big step for me. I’m happy, but in the long run it really doesn’t matter.”

When Diamond left the game with two outs in the seventh, Minnesota was holding onto a 4-3 lead. Casey Fien came in and recorded the final out of the seventh inning, meaning Diamond was in line for the win. He matched a season high with five strikeouts and walked just one batter while scattering seven hits. One of the three runs he allowed was unearned after Jayson Nix reached on a Jamey Carroll error and later scored on Cano’s second home run.

If nothing else, Diamond cleared a mental hurdle with Monday’s outing.

“He got over the hump,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Cano, if you take him out of the lineup against Scott, (it was) a really good night. But Cano’s swinging pretty well. We saw that. The one guy we talked about not letting beat us, he didn’t personally beat us but he got a lot of hits.”

This was a big start for Diamond, who was 2-3 with a 5.74 ERA in June. He’s struggled to find the consistency that the Twins saw a year ago when he was their best starting pitcher.

Minnesota will also likely have a decision to make soon when right-hander Mike Pelfrey rejoins the rotation. Pelfrey made a rehab start Monday for Low-A Cedar Rapids and allowed just one run. Chances are he’ll head back north and make his next scheduled start on July 6 — which is also when Diamond would pitch next.

Knowing what was on the line, Diamond tried not to worry about any of that on Monday.

“I knew what I needed to do, and that was to work down in the zone,” Diamond said. “I was just trying to keep it simple. It seems like for the past couple outings that everything’s really been speeding up. I’ve been over-thinking and questioning. Today was just about staying calm and working one pitch at a time.”

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