Twins' bullpen is taxed, but does job vs. KC

Four relievers combine for 5 1/3 solid innings after Santana's short start

Twins' bullpen is taxed, but does job vs. KC

MINNEAPOLIS -- After Ricky Nolasco lasted 2 2/3 innings in Monday's series opener against Royals, the Twins were hoping for Ervin Santana to pitch deep into Tuesday night's game.

But it didn't work out that way, as Santana went 3 2/3 frames, putting the Twins in an early hole by giving up six runs on nine hits and two walks. Relievers Michael Tonkin, Ryan Pressly, Brandon Kintzler and Fernando Abad combined to give up one run over 5 1/3 innings, but it wasn't enough in a 7-4 loss at Target Field.

"We talked about hopefully getting a good start, but that didn't happen," manager Paul Molitor said. "It forced us to piece the game together as best we could. It's been a tough-go for the bullpen with how much they've been used. We hung around, but we couldn't get big hits."

Santana, who entered with a staff-best 3.13 ERA after posting a 1.93 ERA over his previous two starts, couldn't get it going against his former team. He struggled with his fastball command and couldn't make it out of the fourth inning for the second time in his last four outings.

It's been a disturbing trend for the Twins, whose relievers have thrown the third-most innings in the Majors this month. The bullpen hasn't held up as a result, as it has combined to post a 6.15 ERA in 79 innings in May.

"It's tough, especially with the way we've been using the bullpen," Santana said. "It's really, really tough because we want to do our job and go deeper into the games, but the way things are going right now, it's very tough."

The bullpen was better on Tuesday, as the only run the Royals scored once Santana departed came in the sixth inning on a two-out RBI bloop single from Lorenzo Cain off Pressly. Otherwise the four relievers scattered four hits with five strikeouts and no walks to keep the Twins in the game. Pressly went two innings, while Tonkin and Kintzler went 1 1/3 frames. Abad came in with a runner on second with one out in the ninth, but got out of the jam to lower his ERA to 0.51.

"We're extending people. Pressly had a good night and gave up a run on a good pitch that Cain dumped into right field," Molitor said. "Tonkin did a nice job, Fernando continues to pitch well and Kintzler. Those guys are taking the ball. And I give them credit for that because they've been having to do that quite frequently."

Molitor said it's enough they're considering making a roster move before Wednesday's series finale. The lone candidate appears to be J.T. Chargois, who has posted a combined 0.98 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. But he'd have to catch an early flight from New York with Wednesday's 12:10 p.m. CT start, and Molitor said they're still weighing their options.

"We're talking about what we need to do and who's available tomorrow," Molitor said. "It's getting pretty thin. But nothing's been concluded yet as far as that."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.