Saturday Twins: Kubel, Baker break through

Posted: April 10, 2010, 3:25 p.m. CT

By Patrick Donnelly
foxsportsnorth.com

Final score: Twins 2, White Sox 1

Winning pitcher: Scott Baker (1-1) 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 99 pitches
Losing pitcher: Freddy Garcia (0-1) 7 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 95 pitches

The hero: Jason Kubel — Last year’s breakout star finally joined the hit parade with a two-run homer in the seventh inning to provide the Twins’ only runs. Jim Thome started the inning with a walk, and Kubel delivered pinch-runner Alexi Casilla with a towering blast to right-center. He added a double and a walk to help snap a 1-for-13 skid.

The zero: Orlando Hudson — Is it possible the Twins’ second baseman is still concussed after his collision with the Angels’ Howie Kendrick on Thursday? He sure is playing as though his mind is somewhere else. On Friday night, he either forgot how many outs there were or got a terrible read on a Michael Cuddyer fly ball and got doubled off first, killing a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the first inning.

In the eighth inning on Saturday, Hudson tagged up from second on a Justin Morneau fly ball that dropped near the left-field foul line and kicked past left fielder Juan Pierre. The ball bounced off the wall and on the warning track before the noodle-armed Pierre picked it up, yet when the play ended, Hudson had advanced only 90 feet. Perhaps third-base coach Scott Ullger held him at third, figuring there were no outs and the Twins had Cuddyer-Kubel-Casilla coming up. Or maybe Hudson didn’t get a good jump off second base once the ball hit the ground in left. Regardless, there was O-Dog, standing on third as the Twins clung to a 2-1 lead, and once again, the Twins came away empty-handed after a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation.

It was over when … Jon Rauch nailed down his fourth save in the last fifth days, calmly dispatching three of four White Sox hitters and not allowing a really hard-hit ball after relying heavily on his defense in his second and third saves. Rauch doesn’t have the raw stuff that Joe Nathan had, but he’s been consistent with his fastball (today, every one of them checked in between 89-91 mph) and he pulled the string on a 74-mph curveball to get Paul Konerko to pop out. That 16 mph split is consistent with the traits of an effective closer. So is impeccable control, and thus far, Rauch hasn’t walked or hit a batter in four innings this year.

Thanks, pal — The bullpen as a whole has been magnificent in this five-game winning streak, and even when one of them gets in trouble, his mates have been bailing him out. On Saturday, it was Jose Mijares’ turn to be the black sheep, as he relieved Baker to start the eighth inning and promptly walked Mark Teahen. After Pierre bunted Teahen into scoring position, Jesse Crain relieved Mijares and retired Gordan Beckham and Carlos Quentin — the Whitey’s No. 2 and 3 hitters — on harmless popouts.

Funny, isn’t it, that the bullpen seemed to be the Twins’ biggest concern a week ago, and now it’s one of their biggest assets? That’s what a week of games can tell you.

Up next: The Twins (5-1) look for the sweep and end the road trip with Nick Blackburn on the hill. veteran lefty Mark Buehrle will try to salvage a game for the White Sox (1-4). Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on WFTC in the metro area and on FOX Sports North outside of the Twin Cities. Get all the details from Alex Halsted in Know the Enemy.

Follow Patrick Donnelly on Twitter @fsnorthdonnelly