The Minnesota Twins have started to swing the bats pretty well the last few weeks, their offense shrugging off the early season struggles to live up to the potential they envisioned when they broke spring training.
The rut has been far harder to shake for the starting pitchers, and until that happens, the Twins figure to be stuck at the bottom of the division.
Anthony Swarzak delivered another disappointing performance for a Twins starter, giving up six runs on nine hits in 3 2-3 innings of a 10-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Friday night.
Swarzak (0-4) battled flulike symptoms and struck out three and walked one in his first start since April 19, moving from the bullpen to the rotation for the injured Nick Blackburn.
Denard Span had three hits for the Twins, who have lost three in a row after showing signs of life in the previous 10 days.
Prince Fielder had three hits and two RBIs, Alex Avila had two doubles and three RBIs and Drew Smyly (2-1) gave up four runs — three earned — on six hits in five innings for the win.
"Another night where we actually beat the ball around pretty good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We scored some runs, but unfortunately we couldn't stop them."
One of the busiest men on the field was first base umpire Alan Porter, who had several bang-bang plays at the bag throughout the game.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland and Gardenhire both argued with him early in the game, and Porter tossed Twins third baseman Jamey Carroll in the eighth after calling him out on a close play. Gardenhire came out to defend Carroll and got ejected himself, and the manager tossed his hat as he left the field.
Carroll said he told Porter that "I thought the tie goes to the runner," but Porter told him he heard something different.
"I've said, in my 10 years, a lot worse things before," Carroll said. "I didn't cuss, I didn't say anything that I thought warranted that. But obviously he has his opinion."
It was the culmination of a frustrating night for Gardenhire and the Twins, who have been buried in the AL Central basement practically since Day One in large part because of poor starting pitching.
"He didn't deserve to get thrown out of the ballgame," Gardenhire said. "I did. I earned mine, so I'll take it. But I was pretty upset."
Swarzak was moved from the bullpen to the rotation for this start while Ron Gardenhire juggles his rotation to make up for the loss of Blackburn, who is on the disabled list with an injured quadriceps muscle.
Swarzak has been effective this year as a long reliever, with a 3.06 ERA in 17 2-3 innings. But he's looked like a different pitcher when starting the game, getting hammered for an 8.34 ERA in 18 1-3 innings during his four starts.
"He was battling the flu bug out there and really didn't have his mojo going, as they say," Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire simply doesn't have many options right now. Scott Baker is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery, Francisco Liriano was demoted to the bullpen earlier this month after posting a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts, Jason Marquis was designated for assignment with an 8.47 ERA in seven starts, and Liam Hendriks was sent back down to Triple-A Rochester after getting shelled in three of his four starts.
The Twins have started nine different pitchers in the first two months of the season, and they have routinely frustrated Gardenhire with their inability to hold leads.
The Twins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Brian Dozier doubled with the bases loaded, but Swarzak gave it all back and then some in the top of the second.
Fielder and Delmon Young led off the second with singles and Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila delivered RBI doubles in Detroit's four-run second inning.
The Twins closed the gap to 7-5 with a sacrifice fly from Alexi Casilla and an RBI-single from Carroll in the sixth, but once again couldn't keep the momentum on their side.
The Tigers scored three more runs in the seventh, including one when Dozier lost track of a fly ball in shallow left field. Fielder added an RBI-single and Young had an RBI double in the inning, padding the Tigers' lead to 10-5.
NOTES: It was the first career ejection for Carroll, who is in his 10th season. ... Liriano gave up four runs on five hits in 2 2-3 innings of relief. ... Twins GM Terry Ryan said Blackburn will throw a bullpen session Saturday and could begin a rehab assignment in Triple-A Rochester soon. ... Twins OF prospect Joe Benson had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his left hand and will miss six to eight weeks. ... Carl Pavano (2-3, 4.91) takes the mound for the Twins on Saturday against Max Scherzer (3-3, 5.79). Pavano has been pitching through some discomfort in his shoulder, but said it's been feeling better lately. Scherzer got off to a dreadful start this season, but struck out 15 in his last outing, a win over Pittsburgh.