MINNEAPOLIS -- The last time Brian Duensing made a start at Yankee Stadium, he was opening last year's American League Division Series. After two relief appearances there last May, he returns to the Big Apple looking to keep this year's ALDS from ending.
He's had a breakout season in the Twins' rotation in between, and his teammates believe he gives them a chance to finally take a game out of this series.
"I think he's a lot different pitcher this year than he was last year," teammate Nick Blackburn said. "I think as many starts as he's had this year and as good of a season as he's had so far this year, I think he's got a little more confidence, you know, and I think he'll be fine. I'm expecting him to go out there and do what he's been doing all year."
If the Twins have to play this series out as if they have nothing to lose, Duensing might well fit that approach well. After opening the season in the bullpen, Duensing took a midseason shot in the rotation and ran with it, going 8-2 as a starter and picking up two crucial wins over the White Sox to help the Twins sew up the AL Central.
Duensing gave up five runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings in Game 1 of last year's Division Series in the Bronx. He had a Twins team behind him that made a late-night trip into town the night before following an extra-innings tiebreaker win over the Tigers to earn a postseason berth.
"Duensing has been there before," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Duensing opened the playoffs there last year. He's pitched very very well for us, another kid that handles the pressure, and there's going to be some pressure out there. But I think our ballclub, we have to kind of let it fly."
Target's shrinking act continues in ALDS
MINNEAPOLIS -- For most of the inaugural season at Target Field, the consensus had been that the ball did not carry well to the middle part of the Twins' new ballpark. But in recent weeks, the players have been seeing some changes.
In Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Yankees, the trend continued, as Lance Berkman hit an opposite-field shot into the Twins' bullpen in left-center, building on the theme set in the opener of the American League Division Series."The last month or so, or at least the last couple weeks, it's been carrying a little bit better than it did in the summer," first baseman Michael Cuddyer said after the Twins' 6-4 loss to the Yankees in Game 1. That was the case in Game 1 on Wednesday night, when Cuddyer hit a rare shot into the spruce trees in deep center field and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run triple that bounced off right-center-field wall. Granderson's hit off a fastball away from Francisco Liriano came with two outs in the sixth inning and with the Twins still holding a 3-2 lead. Manager Ron Gardenhire said that many of his players and coaches thought that Granderson's ball was an inning-ending flyout when he hit it, but the ball just kept carrying all the way to the wall. "[Pitching coach Rick Anderson] was standing right next to me and when we saw him hit the ball, Andy yelled, 'Yeah, nice pitch,' and started walking down the dugout but the ball ended up off the scoreboard," Gardenhire said. "Our outfielders were out there standing straight up at it. So we did not think that was going to be off the wall." Gardenhire said that Cuddyer's homer was another example that balls aren't dying to that portion of the park, since the first baseman had lined similar shots earlier in the season that resulted in outs or doubles off the wall. There had been a suggestion earlier in the year by Jason Giambi of the Rockies that the ball might start flying more when some of the moisture evaporated out of the concrete in the new ballpark, and Gardenhire suggested that perhaps that sentiment is true. "It's definitely flying better," Gardenhire said. "Maybe they were right, all the concrete has cured and the moisture is out of the concrete now. Maybe it's flying better because of that."
Gardenhire calls Game 2 'almost do-or-die'
MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire isn't typically one to make strong statements about the importance of certain games.But Gardenhire didn't mince words when talking about how critical it is for his team to come up with a win in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees at Target Field on Thursday night. "This is a huge game," Gardenhire said while talking to local reporters in his office. "This is almost a do-or-die type thing. You don't want to go into New York 0-2. I try not to put pressure on guys, but this is one that we've got to get. We need to get this game. It's very important." Gardenhire was asked whether anything was done to try to keep his team loose for Game 2, considering the pressure that's on them after losing the first game at home in the best-of-five series. "Oh, they've been yelling. I've been hearing a bunch of yelling out there," Gardenhire said, as shouts and sounds of laughter were coming from inside the clubhouse. "So that tells me they are pretty loose." The Twins entered Thursday having lost 10 consecutive postseason contests, dating back to the 2004 ALDS against the Yankees.
Twins take caution in Baker's relief role
MINNEAPOLIS -- Scott Baker hasn't made a relief appearance since 2007, having been a part of the Twins' rotation for the past three years. When the time came to sort out the American League Division Series bullpen, though, manager Ron Gardenhire added him to the roster.The Twins have no doubt Baker can pitch in relief, and liked him there more than Kevin Slowey, who was left off the ALDS roster. That said, a lingering case of elbow tendinitis will make the Twins cautious on how they use Baker. "You give him more time to warm up," pitching coach Rick Anderson said on Thursday. "More times than not, you probably won't bring him in in the middle of the inning. If you have him start an inning, that should give him plenty of time. You wouldn't repeat him a day. You just kind of watch as you go, but you just don't want to hurt him." Anderson did not call him a long reliever but did say his rotation work this year allows them to stretch him out for several innings if they need it. Technically, Baker has never pitched in the postseason, though he was the starting pitcher in last year's AL Central tiebreaker against Detroit.
Gardenhire lobbies against diving into first
MINNEAPOLIS -- On a day where there was a lot of pressure on the Twins to win Game 2 and avoid losing both of their home contests against the Yankees, manager Ron Gardenhire also provided a moment of humor.During his pregame press conference on Thursday afternoon, Gardenhire was asked if he was nervous when he saw Joe Mauer diving into first base trying to beat Mark Teixeira to the bag in the third inning of Game 1. Gardenhire admitted that, yes, his heart had started to beat faster. So, what did he do when he saw Mauer go head-first into the base? "When he dove, I slapped Nick Punto," Gardenhire said, eliciting laugher from the entire media room. Punto is known for his penchant of diving head-first into first base. It's something that the Twins say they know can't really be changed for Punto since it's a natural instinct of the utility infielder. But seeing that type of dive from Mauer, who signed an eight-year, $184 million contract extension in Spring Training, and having his All-Star catcher risk the possibility of injury from the play was not something that Gardenhire wanted to see. "It's not that fun watching Joe Mauer dive into [first base]," Gardenhire said. "I would rather have him not dive into first base to tell you the truth. But he was trying and he is busting his tail, and that's what our guys do."
Young takes success vs. Pettitte into Game 2
MINNEAPOLIS -- Delmon Young has had plenty of success against Andy Pettitte, which made him a no-brainer choice to stick in the cleanup spot for the Twins in Game 2 of their American League Division Series against the Yankees. The key to his success, though, has been developing the consistency to hit everybody.Young entered Thursday night's game with an 11-for-19 career clip off Pettitte, though the venerable left-hander has kept him homerless. That includes a 2-for-5 performance and an RBI double in two meetings this year, which contributed to Young's .312 batting average and .927 OPS against left-handers this season, up slightly from his respective career numbers of .308 and .834. He's hitting left-handers as usual, but he's hitting them with more power. What makes the difference for Young is the consistency. His .292 average off right-handed pitchers this season is six points better than his career mark and 21 points better than his 2009 average. His .781 OPS off righties is easily a career high. Some pitchers, of course, still get him. But they aren't the same ups and downs that he's had in previous years, which explains, in part, why this is a breakout season for him. "He's kind of dedicated himself to the game, and he works really hard," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He is still a young hitter, just turned 25 years old. And, you know, he figured out how to get the bat head through [the zone] and drive the ball and pull the ball. He shot the ball the other way a lot last year for us and up the middle. He made a concerted effort [this year] to actually get the bat head through the zone and put the ball in the seats. "Once he started seeing the ball fly, he liked it. That's a good thing, when a guy figures out how to get the bat head to the front part of the zone and drive balls. And I think he enjoys jogging around the bases now, and he's had a heckuva year for us."