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Santana tosses two-hitter as Twins blank A's

MINNEAPOLIS--Paul Molitor has pondered plenty of difficult decisions during his season and a half as manager of Minnesota Twins. But the skipper had it easy on Wednesday, July 6.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana, left, celebrates with interim pitching coach Eric Rasmussen his 4-0 shutout victory over the Oakland Athletics after Wednesday's game at Target Field. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana, left, celebrates with interim pitching coach Eric Rasmussen his 4-0 shutout victory over the Oakland Athletics after Wednesday's game at Target Field. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS-Paul Molitor has pondered plenty of difficult decisions during his season and a half as manager of Minnesota Twins. But the skipper had it easy on Wednesday, July 6.

Twins starter Ervin Santana was brilliant, allowing just two hits in a 4-0 complete-game shutout of the Oakland Athletics at Target Field.

"I haven't had many decisions in a year and a half (as manager) of letting a guy go out there and try to get a shutout," said Molitor. "He was dominant. Early on, we had trouble getting the offense going but he kept putting up zeroes. You can't say enough about the way Ervin threw the ball.

"He made the managing aspect of it pretty easy."

Santana's outing was his best since signing with the Twins prior to last season, as the right-hander finished off a game for the first time since he shut out Arizona on June 16, 2012, when he played for the Los Angeles Angels.

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Five days after throwing a season-high 117 pitches and getting through 6 1/3 innings against Texas, Santana needed an even 100 pitches to retire 27 of the 29 men he faced on Wednesday, walking none and striking out eight along the way.

Santana's early-season struggles also disappeared further into the rear-view mirror as the veteran allowed two earned runs or fewer for a fourth consecutive start.

"Throwing a first-pitch strike helped me out a lot today," Santana said. "I was just trying to be patient and take it one pitch at a time. Everything was working good and I was on the same page with (catcher Juan) Centeno."

Santana was perfect through 4 2/3 innings before allowing a two-out double to Billy Butler. He retired the next seven men he faced before Stephen Vogt started the eighth with a leadoff single.

Facing trouble for the first time all day, Santana quickly got out of it, forcing Butler to ground into a 3-6-1 double play. He struck out Yonder Alonso to end the eighth, then retired the side in order again in the ninth to finish off his third win (3-7).

"(Santana) was locating his fastball down at the knees and working his off-speed really well. We had some pretty good at-bats off him at times and we had some non-competitive at-bats at times," Vogt said. "When a pitcher has his stuff and you don't have consistent at-bats, it's going to be very hard to win. But tip your cap, he was very, very good today."

Oakland starter Sonny Gray also was solid but struggled with his control, walking four and allowing six hits over six innings. Gray failed to work a single clean inning but stranded nine men and allowed only one run to keep the Athletics close.

"Probably the best mix of pitches we've seen in a while," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. "Threw quite a few changeups, curveball, slider, moving fastballs, some cutters. Really a good array of pitches. Unfortunately they just spoiled a lot of them off. His stuff was great."

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Despite the quality start, Gray (3-8) was unable to secure his first victory since April 22, a span of 12 starts. The righty has allowed two earned runs or fewer in five of his last seven outings.

"I felt good all day, there were just a few innings that got extended," Gray said. "They spoiled a lot of pitches today, a lot of times pitches that get put in play, they were fouling them off."

Following a leadoff walk by Robbie Grossman in the fifth, Joe Mauer rolled an RBI double to the wall in left-center field for the only run surrendered by Gray on the day.

Grossman walked again to lead off the seventh, and Mauer followed with a single to right to put runners on the corners with nobody out for the middle of the order.

Brian Dozier grounded to shortstop Marcus Semien, who fired home to retire Grossman, but Miguel Sano singled to load the bases and Max Kepler drew an eight-pitch walk to score a run.

Eddie Rosario added a sacrifice fly to left field to score another run and give Santana a three-run cushion.

Danny Santana led off the eighth with a triple off the wall in right and scored on Eduardo Nunez's sacrifice fly to deep center for a 4-0 lead.

"I knew (Ervin Santana) was going back out, but that took a little stress off of trying to get somebody up," Molitor said.

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Nunez finished the day 1-for-4 with a single, a run scored, an RBI and a stolen base, becoming the first Twin to steal at least 20 bases before the All-Star break since Carlos Gomez swiped 21 in 2008. Nunez was named to his first career All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Mauer had a double among three hits after getting the night off on Tuesday. Santana also had three hits.

NOTES: Athletics RHP Fernando Rodriguez had an MRI on his shoulder that revealed a strained rotator cuff. The injury will shut him down indefinitely but is not expected to require surgery to repair. Rodriguez, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday, has a 4.20 ERA in 40 2/3 innings this season. ... Twins INF Eduardo Escobar was available off the bench on Wednesday. Escobar was ruled out in each of the last four games because of a strained left hamstring sustained on Saturday against Texas. ... Twins OF Byron Buxton was not in the starting lineup because of soreness stemming from a collision with the wall on Tuesday. He was available off the bench. ... Oakland will continue its seven-game road trip into the All-Star break with a four-game series against the Houston Astros beginning on Thursday. ... Minnesota will also head to the Lone Star State to begin a four-game series with the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana, left, celebrates with interim pitching coach Eric Rasmussen his 4-0 shutout victory over the Oakland Athletics after Wednesday's game at Target Field. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt tags out Minnesota Twins left fielder Robbie Grossman on a fielder's choice in the seventh inning Wednesday at Target Field. Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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