Swarzak dominates Cubs, then optioned

Swarzak dominates, then optioned

CHICAGO -- Anthony Swarzak received handshakes, congratulations and a game ball following his exceptional pitching performance on Saturday afternoon. Then, he received something far less desirable: A demotion.

Swarzak, making his fifth Major League start for the Twins, flummoxed and flabbergasted the Cubs for seven innings, as Minnesota defeated Chicago, 2-0, on a cold, misty afternoon at Wrigley Field.

And what was his reward?

After the game, the Twins optioned Swarzak to Triple-A Rochester and recalled catcher Jose Morales. Swarzak found himself caught in a numbers game, the odd man out among the Twins' pitching staff.

With starting pitcher Glen Perkins returning to the rotation on Tuesday against the Pirates following a short stint on the disabled list, the Twins needed to bolster their bench. The club was down to 23 players for Saturday's game. Outfielder Denard Span has been out with dizziness, and outfielder Michael Cuddyer aggravated a right index finger injury before Saturday's contest.

"It's definitely disappointing, but at the same time, I kind of figured it was going to happen," Swarzak said. "Perkins is just trying to get better, and now he's ready to go, and it's his spot. I knew that coming into this. So, we'll see what happens."

Swarzak certainly looked the part of a big league starter on Saturday, belting out one final tune in perfect pitch in what became his swan song for now.

"If he's going to get sent down, at least it's on a good note," said Cuddyer, who handed Swarzak the game ball.

Swarzak retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced before surrendering back-to-back singles to Milton Bradley and Derrek Lee in the fourth inning. But Swarzak induced a pop out to center field of catcher Geovany Soto and struck Kosuke Fukudome out looking to end the inning.

He went seven innings, holding the Cubs to four hits while striking out a career-high six batters and walking one. The only extra-base hit he allowed came on a double to Ryan Theriot in the seventh. One batter later, he coolly coaxed an inning-ending groundout by Aaron Miles back to the pitcher to complete his day.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire sympathized with Swarzak's plight.

"I told him, 'Swarzie, it doesn't get much better than that what you did at Wrigley against that team over there,'" Gardenhire said. "'You go down with a lot of confidence knowing that you can pitch in the big leagues.' He did a super, super job in front of a lot of people."

Offensively, Swarzak was backed by a Jason Kubel home run in the second inning and a Joe Mauer RBI single in the third.

Kubel's moonshot to right field landed onto Sheffield Avenue, putting the Twins ahead, 1-0. It was Kubel's 11th home run of the season, the third-most on the team.

The home run was just the second hit onto Sheffield this season. That feat last occurred on May 14, when the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez hit one off Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster.

"That's pretty cool," Kubel said. "I got that one pretty good."

As it turned out, the run was all the support needed for Swarzak, who lowered his ERA from 5.23 to 3.90.

Kubel said he never would have imagined that a second-inning solo home run would be enough to come away with a victory at Wrigley.

"Especially against a team like the Cubs with all the guys they've got over there, I didn't expect that at all," Kubel said. "That just shows how good Swarzak threw today."

In the third inning, Nick Punto led off with a single and advanced to second on Cubs starter Rich Harden's wild pitch. Mauer then singled through the right side to score Punto for the second and final run of the contest.

Twins reliever Matt Guerrier came on to work a perfect eighth inning, and closer Joe Nathan picked up his 15th save, although he made it interesting for the 40,899 fans in attendance.

Nathan walked Bradley to lead off the ninth. Lee then lined a single off Twins third baseman Joe Crede's glove, moving Bradley to second with nobody out. Pinch-hitter Andres Blanco followed by bunting Lee and Bradley over to second and third, respectively, leaving two men in scoring position with one out.

But Nathan got Fukudome flailing on a strikeout for the second out and induced a game-ending flyout of Theriot to right field to nail down the victory for Swarzak (2-2).

Swarzak is scheduled to make his next start in five days in Triple-A. It's not the venue in which he had hoped to make his next appearance, but at least Swarzak left the Major League club with plenty to remember him by.

"For me to go out there and get a win at Wrigley, it's pretty special and you'll have that for the rest of your life," Swarzak said. "No one can ever take that away from you. Hopefully, they'll see me again sooner rather than later. But you never know. That's the way the cookie crumbles."

Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.