MINNEAPOLIS — Though Scott Baker was smiling after a career-high 12 strikeouts, he tried to shrug off the significance of all those empty swings by the Colorado Rockies.
Jose Mijares gave Minnesota the biggest strikeout of the night, and he couldn’t hide his excitement.
Baker pitched seven shutout innings and the Twins, despite hitting into three more double plays, held on to beat the Rockies 2-1 Wednesday.
Baker (6-5) bounced back from a couple of substandard starts in a big way. He allowed only two singles and a walk, didn’t let a runner past first base and retired 13 of his last 14 batters.
“Strikeouts are nice, but it’s kind of hard work sometimes to strike a bunch of guys out,” Baker said. “I think you want to be super efficient, and sometimes striking guys out that’s not the case.”
Jhoulys Chacin (3-6) was in trouble frequently, but double play grounders by Michael Cuddyer, Danny Valencia and Justin Morneau finished the third, fourth and fifth innings. The Twins have grounded into a major league-leading 75 DPs.
The Rockies will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound on Thursday afternoon to try to salvage a game from this series, with the Twins pitching their ace, Francisco Liriano.
“It’s going to be a fun day for baseball,” Minnesota’s Nick Punto said.
Baker didn’t let missed chances by his teammates faze him. Eleven of his strikeouts were swinging, and the Rockies didn’t show much confidence about how to handle him.
“He pitched a great game. I think we need to make better adjustments and put the ball in play,” Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez said.
Baker fanned Brad Hawpe on his 101st pitch and walked off the mound two outs later to an appreciative ovation from the announced crowd of 40,814, the largest at new Target Field.
“Those guys take a lot of big hacks,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “They’re not afraid to let it fly. When Bake’s on he can do a pretty good job against some of that.”
Jon Rauch pitched a perfect ninth for his 17th save in 19 tries after the Rockies got a run on Joe Mauer’s passed ball with Gonzalez batting in the eighth. The cozy limestone backstop gives a big bounce and Mauer had a chance to pick the ball up and throw out Seth Smith, but he fumbled it twice and had no play.
But Mijares got Gonzalez to pop out and then struck out Todd Helton, jumping off the mound with an exaggerated pump of his arm as he hurried to the dugout.
“That was pretty fun,” Gardenhire said.
Last week, Baker gave up five runs in five innings in a loss to Kansas City. He mostly mixed up his fastball and slider to make the Rockies miss.
“Just getting ahead and keeping the ball down,” Baker said. “Once you get two strikes, come up with a two-strike pitch and if they put it in play they put it in play. If they don’t they don’t.”
Mijares, who said he was scared of Helton, was proud of the fastball used to paint the corner and finish the eighth to save Baker’s hard-earned victory. In contrast to Baker’s modesty, Mijares was beaming about his big strikeout.
“Awesome,” he said. “Everybody likes.”
Baker made one bad throw, and it wasn’t even a pitch. His pickoff attempt in the third inning appeared to hit Gonzalez on the back of the neck, and the young star stayed down at first base for a few seconds before getting cleared to stay in the game.
Gonzalez possibly had the best at-bat against Baker, fouling off five pitches in a row and working the count full to lead off the sixth before getting called out on strike three by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.
Valencia and Punto hit back-to-back singles with the bases loaded and none out in the second to put the Twins up 2-0, but Delmon Young was out on a close play at the plate trying to get the third run when Gonzalez got him from centre.
“That’s as good a throw as you’ll see an outfielder make all year,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
After throwing 15 1-3 straight scoreless innings following his promotion from the minors in late April, Chacin has had a hard time finding his rhythm. The right-hander allowed 11 baserunners over five innings and lost for the sixth time in the past seven starts.
NOTES: Baker’s previous career strikeout high was 10, a year ago against Cleveland. ... Valencia got his first major league RBI and his first career extra-base hit with a double in the seventh. ... Twins 2B Orlando Hudson is doing better, having started swinging left-handed in the batting cage to test his sore left wrist. Gardenhire said he could be ready on Friday.