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Swarzak, Bullpen Blank Cubs

Minnesota offense manages just a pair of runs, but one goes deeper than the seats.

Rich Harden was the story going into today's game.  One of baseball's enigmas, fresh off the disabled list and ready to go; it's hard not to be drawn in by the idea.  To his credit, Harden didn't disappoint.  Over six innings he struck out nine, including the big three lefties that sit in the middle of the lineup.  And Anthony Swarzak.  Twice.  Harden was exclusively fastball-changeup-slider, and what we saw was proof of how well a three-pitch starter can look with quality pitches.

Sound familiar?

For his part, Swarzak matched Harden in results, if not in aura.  Carlos Gomez made a beautiful diving catch, running in and slightly to his right in the bottom of the first inning; a play that singularly defines exactly why he should be starting in center everyday in Denard Span's absence.  But the rookie made the most of his time, even without spectacular plays from his defense.  He worked his fastball-curveball-change combination in the same way he has since coming up from Rochester, with 70 selections being his fastball.  His first two strikeouts came on two-strike curveballs, which didn't just show that Swarzak felt good about his breaking ball this afternoon but it showed how solid he can be when that curve works the way he wants it to.

The defining moment of the game ultimately came early, in the top of the second inning.  Harden delivered a belt-high fastball to Jason Kubel; Kubel delivered a ball that left Wrigley Field over the right field bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue.  It gave the Twins just a 1-0 lead, but it was the deciding run.

With rain having an effect on the grass throughout the game, Minnesota's insurance run was the biggest result of the weather-worn grass.  Joe Mauer's hard ground ball through the right side of the infield slowed as it spun through the grass, allowing Nick Punto to score easily from second base in the third inning.  Had the grass not been wet, it's likely Mauer's grounder reaches right field much quicker and Punto is held at third base.

Milton Bradley and Derek Lee put together back-to-back singles in the fourth inning, but it was the last time they would put two runners on base in an inning until the bottom of the ninth, when Joe Nathan made things interesting.

After getting ahead of Bradley 0-2, Nathan threw four called balls (ball three was clearly strike three for anyone actually watching the game, but it's a moot point now) to put him on.  Lee then scorched one down the left side; Joe Crede managed to get a glove on it before booting it, but by the time Brendan Harris picked up the ball there wasn't a play to be made.  With nobody out in the inning, the Cubbies were in business.

Following an Andres Blanco sacrifice bunt that advanced both Bradley and Lee, Kosuke Fukudome struck out on three straight; it's fair to point out that home plate umpire Dan Bellino had gone back to giving the pitcher the outside of the plate in this plate appearance, as Nathan's first slider was called a strike even though it definitely wasn't in the zone.  Ryan Theriot then ended the threat with a lazy fly to Kubel in right field.

With a well-earned victory under his belt, Swarzak is now on his way back to Rochester.  Glen Perkins will be back with the Twins for his start on Tuesday.  To help with the shortage of bench options (Michael Cuddyer's hand in general, and Span's dizzy spells causes for concern), Jose Morales is being recalled.  This should give the Twins the opportunity to DH Mauer more often, and give Morales the opportunity to prove that Mauer isn't the only catcher who can hit better than .350.

Additional Twins/Cubs coverage, from SB Nation.

Stars of the Game
#3:  Joe Nathan  (1 IP, H, BB, K, .097 WPA)
#2:  Jason Kubel  (1-for-4, HR, RBI, R, .042 WPA)
#1:  Anthony Swarzak  (7 IP, 4 H, 6 K, BB, .455 WPA)