Twins shut out in A's opener

Twins shut out in A's opener

OAKLAND -- The Twins felt that if they could get their second strong start in a row by one of their rookie starters on Thursday, there was a good chance that a much needed winning streak could begin.

Following a dominating outing by Francisco Liriano against the Angels on Wednesday, it was rookie Boof Bonser's turn to deliver a strong outing, and that's exactly what he did.

Unfortunately, though, the Twins ran into a buzz saw in the form of a pitcher named Barry Zito.

Zito was lights out as he held the Twins scoreless for seven innings in a 4-0 loss to Oakland at McAfee Coliseum.

"He didn't let us breathe at all," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Zito. "I think we had one chance where we had first and second. He had everything working. He had his changeup, the fastball -- he was locating it, and he had a great breaking ball. He kept us off-balance and we just got out-pitched tonight."

Getting out-pitched wasn't an easy task, as Bonser delivered quite an impressive performance himself. The rookie pitched seven innings, giving up just four runs on five hits, but the effort wasn't enough to overcome a difficult night at the plate for the Twins.

Both offenses would tally a total of just five hits, but the difference between the two pitchers was clear from the start. In the pitching duel featuring the rookie versus the former Cy Young Award winner, it was the inexperience that proved costly, as Bonser made mistake pitches that were belted out of the park. All four of the runs that Bonser gave up in his outing came courtesy of the long ball.

The right-hander gave up a leadoff homer to Frank Thomas in the second inning that put Oakland up, 1-0. After giving up a single to the next batter, Bobby Crosby, Bonser was able to effectively shut the A's down for a few innings as he retired 12 consecutive batters.

But in the sixth inning, Bonser was again harmed by the home run as he gave up a two-run shot to Mark Kotsay. It was the 100th career home run for Kotsay. One more solo shot by Dan Johnson in the seventh would give the A's a 4-0 lead.

"I made some bad pitches and they drove them out of the park -- that's why they are big-league hitters," Bonser said. "But I think for me, it was a step in the right direction from my other outings."

Bonser threw a total of 94 pitches in the outing and struck out five while not issuing a walk. In only his third Major League outing, Bonser demonstrated an ability to be conservative with his pitches and cruise through innings, a fact that also impressed his opponents.

"He was a strike-throwing machine; his pitch count was lower than Barry's," A's manager Ken Macha said of Bonser. "He's got quality pitches. Before the game, [A's hitting coach] Gerald [Perry] said his curveball was his best pitch, but he was able to save his curveball until later in the game because he was moving his fastball around so well and throwing it for strikes. He's got a nice little split-fingered changeup or something, too. All of his pitches are quality."

The same could be said of Zito's pitches, and he sure demonstrated that on Thursday night. Oakland's lanky lefty made it look easy against the Twins as he allowed just four hits over his seven innings with no walks and five strikeouts. It was also a record-setting night for the pitcher, as he recorded his 1,000th career strikeout in the sixth inning when Lew Ford struck out swinging.

The only Twin to have a good night at the plate against Zito (5-3) was catcher Joe Mauer, who recorded two hits to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Mauer finished the game 2-for-4, improving his season batting average to .362, which leads the Major Leagues.

With both pitchers putting together such strong performances on the mound, the game cruised along and the Twins recorded their fastest game of the season with a one-hour, 57-minute contest.

"It's always nice to have those," Gardenhire said of the quick game. "But they're always better when you win."

The game didn't feel quite so quick to Bonser (1-1), who picked up his first Major League loss of his career.

"I felt like I was out there forever," Bonser said.

Forever could be the term to describe how the Twins have felt through four games of this 10-game road trip. The road hasn't been very kind to the Twins this season, with their most recent loss bringing their record away from home to 8-20.

"We're playing OK baseball, but we're losing and something is missing," Torii Hunter said. "We don't know what it is, but something is missing."

Hunter blamed part of the 1-3 record on this current road trip due to a lack of playing good defense, but that's something that he agreed wasn't at all an issue on Thursday night. Instead, the Twins' most recent loss to the A's could only be tagged to one thing.

"It was just Barry Zito," Hunter said. "He's one of best lefties in the game."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.