Twins' bullpen shined in extra innings battle
MINNEAPOLIS — When Twins starter Nick Blackburn left Sunday's game against Milwaukee after six innings, it appeared as if Minnesota's bullpen had just three innings of work ahead.
But baseball's an unpredictable game. Sunday's series finale between the Twins and Brewers lasted 15 innings, meaning Minnesota's bullpen pitched nine innings to help the Twins earn the 5-4 win. Six different relievers combined for nine scoreless innings, allowing six total hits in that stretch.
"That was unbelievable," Blackburn said of the bullpen. "Unfortunately, it took 15 innings, but the bullpen stepped it up and did a great job. … It was a fun game to watch. A little longer than I think we all wanted, but a lot of guys stepped up."
Of the six relievers the Twins called upon Sunday, right-hander Jeff Gray arguably had the best day. Gray entered the game in the 12th inning after a 42-minute rain delay. With Minnesota's bullpen options dwindling, Gray was asked to go three innings. He gave up just one hit — a two-out single by Edwin Maysonet in the 14th inning — and walked two in three scoreless innings.
"Gray was unbelievable," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Jeff Gray was the pitcher of the game, as far as I'm concerned. Those three big innings he ate up there were unbelievable."
It was Gray's 27th appearance of the season, and the three innings was the longest he had pitched this year. He previously threw 2 1/3 innings three different times, most recently in Detroit on May 16.
"I was just trying to eat up as many innings as possible without giving up some runs. Hopefully we can score one in there," Gray said.
Along with Gray, the Twins used Alex Burnett, Jared Burton, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak in relief of Blackburn. Swarzak earned the win as he pitched a scoreless 15th inning despite giving up a pair of hits.
Before Sunday's nine-inning combined effort, the Twins' bullpen was already one of the most taxed units in baseball. Minnesota's relievers had thrown 227 2/3 innings, third-most in the majors behind only Kansas City and Colorado.
Add nine more innings after a busy Sunday afternoon.
"Our bullpen's been pretty solid all year," Gray said. "We have a lot of good pitchers that we have up there, and we feed off each other. This is one of those instances that we came out and did our job."
Mauer still sore after collision with Weeks: Twins catcher Joe Mauer was still pretty sore after Sunday's game, which he left early with a quad injury that occurred during a collision at the plate with Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks.
"I obviously knew I was kind of preparing for some sort of collision, but he kind of darted in a little bit further than I thought," Mauer said. "Coming in hard, it's part of the game."
Mauer is listed as day-to-day with a bruised right quad. He missed Saturday's game with a sore hamstring but was back in the lineup Sunday. With the addition of the quad injury, Mauer said the hamstring felt fine during Sunday's game.
"I forgot about that," Mauer said of his sore hamstring. "After that happened, I really didn't feel the hamstring too bad."
Before leaving Sunday's game, Mauer was 3-for-4 with two RBI, including the game-tying run in the seventh inning on a single up the middle. He is now batting .314 with 34 RBI this season.
On a few of his hits Sunday, Mauer was visibly slowed by his injury. On one hit to right field, it appeared as if Mauer could have reached second base safely, but he stopped at first as his injury hampered his ability to run. He was lifted for pinch runner Darin Mastroianni in the seventh inning.
"I told Gardy I'll give you everything I've got," Mauer said. "I hit a ball down the first base line that probably should have been a double, but I was going as fast as I could go. He talked to me about it and he said, ‘If you get on again, I'm probably going to have to take you out.' That's what the situation called for."
Tonkin is Minor League Player of the Week: Michael Tonkin, a pitcher for Low-A Beloit, was named the Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Week for the week of June 9-15. The 22-year-old right-hander threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in three relief appearances and did not allow a hit or issue a walk. He picked up two saves and struck out 12 batters during that time.
For the season, Tonkin is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 22 relief appearances. He's stuck out 53 batters and walked just nine in 39 innings.