Twins' Swarzak baffles Cubs before being sent down
The way he dominated, Anthony Swarzak certainly pitched like a major leaguer Saturday, and he probably will be again.
Back to the minors, kid.
In an odd twist, the Minnesota Twins optioned the 23-year-old rookie to Triple-A Rochester after he scattered four hits over seven innings in a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday afternoon.
Harsh crowd, that Twins management.
Swarzak (2-2) struck out six and walked one while earning his first win since beating Milwaukee last month. So why is the right-hander being sent to the minors? To make room for catcher Jose Morales, who was recalled from Rochester.
"I've got no doubts he can pitch in the big leagues and he proved that today," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But it has to be done. We need a player here. I've got too many injuries."
The Twins played short-handed on Saturday with outfielders Michael Cuddyer (right index finger) and Denard Span (dizziness) unavailable.
Swarzak, who has a 3.90 ERA in five starts, was disappointed but had an idea the move was coming.
"It's definitely disappointing but I kind of figured it would happen," he said. "I thought I could pitch at this level but now I know. I just need to go to Rochester and work on consistency."
Swarzak consistently hit the strike zone Saturday, Jason Kubel homered and the Twins hung on after the Cubs threatened in the ninth.
What looked like a relatively easy win took a tense turn when closer Joe Nathan walked Milton Bradley leading off. Derrek Lee then lined a single off third baseman Joe Crede's glove and pinch hitter Andres Blanco laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting runners on second and third. Nathan then got out of it, striking out Kosuke Fukudome and retiring Ryan Theriot on a fly to right to end the game and send the Cubs to their fourth straight loss.
"I've never seen anything like I'm seeing right now," said Alfonso Soriano, who's batting .233 after going 0 for 4. "We're a very good hitting team. I don't know what's happening now, but it's not looking good."
Minnesota got its runs in the early going against the returning Rich Harden after a 32-minute rain delay at the start. Kubel led off the second with his 11th homer and Joe Maurer singled in a run, delighting the Twins fans.
The two-time defending NL Central champions simply couldn't get anything going against Swarzak. They had no luck either against Matt Guerrier, who retired the side in the eighth before Nathan worked a tense ninth for his 15th save in 17 chances.
Harden (4-3) was a tough-luck loser after missing about three weeks with a mid-back strain. He allowed just two runs and five hits over six innings, striking out nine and walking two after being activated from the disabled list earlier in the day.
"I felt like I could have thrown a lot more pitches," said Harden, who threw 92. "I was just starting to kind of get things down starting my off-speed for strikes and getting ahead of some hitters."
Kubel turned on a 1-1 fastball, driving it to the street beyond the right-field seats in the second, and Mauer made it 2-0 when he drove in Nick Punto with a two-out single to right in the third. Twins fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" just as they did Friday, and it's hard to argue.
The reigning AL batting champion, Mauer is batting .408 after missing April with a back injury.
While Mauer got showered again with cheers, Cubs fans continued to let Bradley hear it. They booed him loudly after a flub-filled Friday in which he committed a base-running blunder, lost a ball in the sun and threw another into the right-field stands after catching what he thought was the third out in a 7-4 loss. He had a single Saturday and no noticeable gaffes, and manager Lou Piniella insisted he didn't consider sitting him.
"What for?" Piniella asked.
The Twins held Cuddyer out of the lineup because of an inflamed right index finger and might be without him for at least a few days. Cuddyer, who missed four games after spraining a ligament May 31, aggravated the condition Friday. He was examined by a doctor Saturday and is expected to see a specialist on Monday.