Although the Twins hadn't been sweating Ponson publicly, the struggling right-hander knew the pressure was on him to perform. As top prospects, such as Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey, got more and more innings under their belts at Triple-A Rochester, the clock was ticking for Ponson to prove himself.
But on Tuesday night, it seemed as if the old Ponson was back.
Ponson allowed one run while working a season-high seven innings, claiming his second win of the season in the Twins' 9-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"I never start the game very good," said Ponson, who allowed only five hits. "I get stronger as the innings go by. I still walked people when we were up by five or six runs, and that's not acceptable. I'm just really happy that these guys gave me six runs early and made my life easy out there."
Ponson issued two early walks and watched some hard-hit balls go foul. After it became obvious his breaking ball wasn't breaking as well as it should, Ponson spoke with catcher Joe Mauer, who noticed the right-hander's arm was dropping as he threw. With the adjustment made, Ponson began coming over the top with his motion and the balls began cutting again.
Ponson (2-3) retired 14 of the last 16 hitters he faced, including nine in a row to finish his outing.
"That's what we saw during Spring Training," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The ball really diving, the right sinker and a great slider going down. He learned something from it as he went along. It got better, and maybe he can carry it over. A very good performance for him."
Ponson entered the game 1-3 with an 8.44 ERA, and many believed his roster spot was in jeopardy. For the first time this season, he felt good about his performance.
"I'll go out there and try to do that all the time," said Ponson, who also beat the Devil Rays on April 14. "I'm going to work hard, starting tomorrow and worry about my next start. That's the only way I can look at it. This game is over with. We won today, we'll go home and get it over with. Tomorrow's a brand new day."
Gardenhire particularly was relieved with Ponson's performance. While talking to reporters before the game, Gardenhire wondered if the former 17-gamer would return to the form that helped Ponson go 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA in Spring Training.
"We're just trying to let it happen here, and if it looks like it's not working, I'm sure we'll make a move," Gardenhire said before the game. "He needs to do well, for his ballclub and for himself."
Gardenhire received at least a temporary answer as he watched Ponson shrink his season ERA to 6.67.
Ponson had a 6-0 lead by the time he went to work in the second inning. The Twins chased Ray starter Edwin Jackson after just 1 1/3 innings.
Designated hitter Jason Tyner said the four-run second inning was proof that the Twins know how to capitalize on situations.
"I think [Mauer's hit] was the only ball that went out of the infield," said Tyner, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run. "We're proving that there are different ways to score runs than home runs."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less