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The Sports Xchange, Published July 05 2013

Duensing, Burton have rough month for Twins

The bullpen has been struggling. What was once considered a tight ship has recently appeared to have some holes. And the flash point for the struggles has been eighth-inning setup man Jared Burton.

The problems have been magnified in the series against the Yankees. Over the course of the first two games, the bullpen has given up 11 runs in three innings, which contributed to turning two close games into two lop-sided Twins losses.

In the first game, Brian Duensing gave up four hits and four runs in 1 1/3 innings. Burton followed by giving up three runs on three hits and getting only one out. The Twins had a 4-3 lead and lost the game 10-4.

Burton's rough outing follows a horrible June in which he went 1-3 with two blown saves and an ERA of 7.45 (eight runs in 9 2/3 innings).

"He's had a tough go," general manager Terry Ryan. "I am concerned because it's not just one or two (bad outings); he's had a couple, three four or five. I'd like to say that relief pitchers go into a slump like hitters and fielders do. He's in a slump.

"It's been a little bit of a difficult month for these guys -- you can throw Duensing in there, too. We're not getting it done down there in the back part of that 'pen leading up to (closer) Glen Perkins."

"Accountability is big for me," Burton told the Pioneer Press. "That makes it even harder sometimes, to accept failure, especially in my role. When I'm failing, it's under much more of a microscope and it reflects on the team in a negative way."

It's hard to figure out exactly what is going on with Burton. From Burton to Gardenhire to Ryan, they all say his stuff is still there. Early in the season, the bullpen was used often because the starting pitching struggled getting to the seventh or even sixth inning.

"I don't think we've overused anybody," Ryan said. "If we were to overuse anybody it would have been last year. Gardy is pretty good about that. I don't think it is overuse. There's no excuse. He's not making any and I'm not going to make any for it. I just think it's feel for that darn changeup. Last year when he threw that, it was a lock that he was going to get that hitter."

Some reports indicate that Burton's velocity is down 1.3 mph from last year, but that really shouldn't make a huge difference.

"His velocity might be a tick down, but I don't think that's it either," Ryan said. "It's more location than velocity. I don't think that's much a deciding factor myself."

After the first game against the Yankees, manager Ron Gardenhire said he was going to give Burton some time off. Burton did not pitch Tuesday or Wednesday but pitched one scoreless inning Thursday.

In a 9-5 loss to the Yankees on Thursday, Duensing came in to clean up a mess created by starter Kyle Gibson. Duensing pitched 1 2/3 innings and gave up one earned run (three total) on two hits, no walks and two strikeouts.

Burton fared better, giving up no runs and no hits and striking out one in one inning.

It looks as though the rest is over, and the results were positive for Burton. But as Gardenhire said, they all have to pitch. And the next test will be coming soon.

Twins team report

RECORD: 36-46

STREAK: Lost five

PAST 10 GAMES: 2-8

NEXT: Twins (Kevin Correia, 6-5, 4.08) vs. Blue Jays (Mark Buehrle, 4-5, 4.81)

PLAYER NOTES

• RHP P.J. Walters was designated for assignment. To replace Walters on the 25-man roster, the Twins will return RHP Mike Pelfrey from his rehab assignment and activate him from the 15-day disabled list. Pelfrey was placed on the disabled list on June 23 (retroactive to June 19) with a back strain.

• RHP Kyle Gibson suffered the loss in his second career start, allowing eight runs on 11 hits and one walk while striking out two in 5-1/3 innings. The 11 hits are the second most given up by a Twins pitcher this season; Scott Diamond gave up 12 on April 26 vs. Texas.

• C Joe Mauer has a hit in three straight games after being held hitless in five straight (June 27 to July 1). He is hitting .353 (18-for-51) with six doubles in his last 13 games against the Yankees (since Aug. 20, 2011).

• 2B Brian Dozier (1-for-5) assisted in two double plays for his 59th and 60th of the season. He entered with the third most in all of baseball behind Jose Altuve (63) and Dustin Pedroia (62). The Twins have turned 95 double plays this season. Dozier also extended his hitting streak to four games with an RBI single in the seventh inning. During that span he is hitting .294 (5-for-17) with two doubles, three walks and three RBI.

• DH Justin Morneau (2-for-3) snapped a 0-for-13 streak with his fifth home run of the season, off David Phelps in the fourth inning. He hit his second home run of the game in the eighth inning off Boone Logan. It was his 19th career multi-homer game; he last did it Sept. 9, 2012, vs. Cleveland. It was his second and third home run in the last five games after going homerless in eight straight. Morneau has 210 home runs and is fifth on the Twins' all-time list -- one behind Bob Allison.

• CF Aaron Hicks (2-for-4) stole his sixth base of the season. Coming into the game, Hicks was ranked tied for second among American League rookies with five. He is hitting .286 (4-for-11) with a double and walk since returning from the disabled list Tuesday.

• OF Darin Mastroianni said his left ankle continues to improve and that he will leave for the spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday. Mastroianni has been on the 60-day DL with a left ankle stress reaction, and he underwent surgery on the ankle. He will continue to do his rehab work in Florida until he's ready to start a rehab assignment. "I'll be starting basically a mini-spring training," Mastroianni told MLB.com. "I'm not ready to play in games. So it's going to take a little while to get my legs underneath me and get into playing shape. So hopefully it won't take too long and I can get rocking and rolling. But we don't know how the ankle is going to react. So it just depends on when I get in that first rehab game. We'll play it by ear."

• RHP Kevin Correia faces Toronto on Friday. Correia's consistency hit a wall June 30 against the Royals as he yielded five runs on seven hits in five innings. He issued three walks and struck out three, but with late offensive surges on both sides, the righty received a no-decision.

• QUOTE TO NOTE: "Disappointing homestand after a good start with it there with the Royals, and then coming here and letting these guys kind of take it to us. They outplayed us this whole series. We didn't do too much right. Go on the road, very tough road trip and we'll see how we do there." -- Manager Ron Gardenhire, after the Yankees won all four games against the Twins.

Twins medical watch

• RHP Mike Pelfrey (back strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 19. He is expected to be activated July 5.

• LF Josh Willingham (sore left knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 1. Willingham had surgery July 3 to repair a medial meniscus tear, and he is expected to be out until early to mid-August.

• CF Wilkin Ramirez (concussion) went on the seven-day disabled list May 26. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Fort Myers on June 20. He went to Minneapolis for observation July 3 after suffering dizziness during a rehab game.

• OF Darin Mastroianni (stress reaction in left ankle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 16. He was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 22 after having surgery on a bone chip in his left ankle. His ankle was moved to a walking boot from a cast May 29. He said on July 4 that his ankle continues to improve and that he will leave for the Twins' spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on July 7.

• RHP Tim Wood (right rotator cuff strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 24, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 24. He began a rehab assignment in mid-April, but he was shut down May 9.