MINNEAPOLIS -- The sounds suggested it was going to be a long night for Ricky Nolasco.
Balls banged off the right field scoreboard. One cleared it. Cleveland looked ready to send Nolasco to another early exit.
But come the seventh inning, Nolasco was still on the mound. He wasn't being hit as hard as he was at the beginning of the game.
He was far from sterling, but his second start since coming off of the disabled list wasn't a clunker either. The Twins lost 5-0 to Cleveland on Wednesday as Nolasco worked to find the form that made him attractive to the team during the offseason.
That's what Nolasco will be working toward for the rest of the year -- reminding the Twins why they've committed $49 million to him through 2017. The key acquisition during their offseason pitching search, Nolasco has fallen well short of their expectations, going 5-8 with a 5.96 ERA. He's had a hand in making the starting rotation look like a liability for the fourth straight season. But with the Twins far from contention in the AL Central he can spend the rest of the season trying to finish strong and build momentum for 2015.
Nolasco walked off the mound after striking out Roberto Perez for the second out of the seventh inning. Chris Dickerson stole second on the pitch. Nolasco actually received some applause as he headed toward the dugout.
His replacement, left-hander Caleb Thielbar, promptly gave up an RBI single to Michael Bourn. So in 6 2/3 innings, Nolasco was charged with four earned runs on eight hits with one walk and six strikeouts. That last run cost Nolasco a chance at a quality start, which is giving up three runs or less over at least six innings.
In the end, all the blame couldn't be placed on Nolasco. A chunk of it had to go to the Men Without Bats that is the Twins offense. Unheralded left-hander T.J. House shut them out for 5 1/3 innings before handing things over to the bullpen. The Twins left two runners on base in the second, fifth and sixth innings.
Nolasco and the other Twins pitchers had little room for error on Wednesday.
Designated hitter Zach Walters opened the scoring with a solo home run in the second inning, a shot estimated at 420 feet. Cleveland scored twice in the fourth, with one run scoring on back-to-back doubles by Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis and an RBI single by Mike Aviles. Nolasco was leaving pitches over the fat part of the plate and getting pounded. Four of the Indians' first five hits went for extra bases. And it looked like he wasn't going to last much longer.
But he got a double play to get out of the fifth having faced the minimum, then struck out two in the sixth. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire sent Nolasco out for the seventh inning, but a one-out single to Dickerson ended up costing him.
Nolasco must continue to search for his missing sharpness, but his outing on Wednesday wasn't as bad as some of the ones he had earlier in the season, before he landed on the disabled list in July with a flexor pronator strain.
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