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Scott Baker shelled in season debut

Scott Baker shelled in season debut
The shoulder soreness that robbed Scott Baker of his Opening Day start is a diversion from the biggest crisis plaguing the Twins' ace -- his penchant for yielding the long ball.

Baker's 2009 debut ended with a resounding thud Wednesday night. Actually, it was more like thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack.

That was the sound of Toronto home runs, which the hot-hitting Blue Jays used to chase Baker after four innings in a 12-2 rout of the Twins in front of 19,471 at the Metrodome.

Baker, who opened the season on the disabled list instead of the mound, gave up nine home runs in six spring training starts -- tied with St. Louis' Kyle Lohse for the most in the preseason.

No big deal considering the stakes. But Baker still is struggling to entice hitters into groundouts and continues to elevate his pitches, a fatal flaw that exposed him to a beating and the Twins' rotation to more early-season questions.

Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells and light-hitting Michael Barrett tagged Baker for four homers as the Blue Jays erased an early 2-0 deficit to thump Minnesota for the second time in this four-game series.

Notwithstanding Glen Perkins' solid outings, Twins starters are 2-5 with a 5.80 earned-run average, having allowed 67 hits, 12 home runs and 18 walks this season.

"They're all trying to figure it out. It's not a time to panic," manager Ron Gardenhire cautioned. "We have a very young pitching staff. Sometimes this is a good thing when they get beat around. They know they have to really step back.

"We've got five good starters. Now we have to work."

The Twins spotted Baker a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but he promptly surrendered a two-run homer to Rolen.

In the third, the Blue Jays added three runs on Hill's two-run blast and Wells' solo shot. Then, with two outs in the fourth, Baker had a strike on Barrett, who was hitting a paltry .083, only to serve up homer No. 4 on the next pitch, which put the Blue Jays in front 6-2.

Most damning about Baker's performance was that he was ahead in the count on all four home run hitters. Not to mention the walks that preceded Rolen and Hills' long balls.

"Ball's up, the ball's up. That's what they tend to do with a pitch up," Baker said. "It's just unfortunate. Just get them next time. Make the adjustment, go from there."

That was enough for Baker's debut, which left him with a ghastly 13.50 earned-run average.

"Just couldn't get the ball down in the zone, and it ended up in the seats," Gardenhire said.

Not exactly the start the Twins were hoping for after signing Baker to a four-year, $15.25 million contract last month following his 11-4 record and 3.45 ERA in 2008.

Baker acknowledged he might have been overexcited. He believes a mechanical adjustment and more determination to follow through on his pitches will solve the problem.

"It's not something I haven't dealt with before. A lot of times I tend to want to watch and see where the pitch is going instead of just letting it fly," Baker said.

His shoulder was not an issue.

"Physically, was great. Never stiffness or any soreness," Baker said. "I feel like that's behind me, so I guess that's one thing you can look at as a positive. First start. Just wasn't where I wanted to be."

The Blue Jays are not a tonic for what ails any pitcher. They lead the major leagues in batting average (.313), runs (68) and total bases (194), having won Monday's series opener over Kevin Slowey with a 19-hit attack. They used 16 hits to score 12 more Wednesday.

"They've got a good bunch of hitters over there," Gardenhire said.

After running Baker, the Blue Jays attacked long reliever Philip Humber for five hits, tacking on three more runs. When the Twins came to bat in the sixth inning, they were trailing 9-2.

It was an inauspicious appearance for Humber. After activating Baker, the Twins decided to keep Humber, who is out of contract options, over left-hander Brian Duensing, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester without having to clear waivers.

Meanwhile, Toronto starter Scott Richmond won the battle against Baker, both former Oklahoma State Cowboys. Richmond shook off a rough first inning and kept hitters off balance into the seventh inning as the Twins were held to four hits.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 16, 2009

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