MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Swarzak has been begging for a start for the nearly two years since his last one. So much so, that it became a running joke in the clubhouse and a source of friendly teammate teasing.
The Twins righthander probably wasn’t expecting to have the last laugh in the form of a notice that he was starting a little more than 12 hours before Wednesday’s game.
But Swarzak stepped up to the quick turnaround, pitching the Twins to a 3-1 series-clinching victory over the Cleveland Indians before an announced 34,608 Wednesday at Target Field.
“It was a relief,” said Swarzak, who had made 78 consecutive relief appearances since his last start for the Twins, which came in the second-to-last game of the 2012 season. “I’ve been waiting to get a start, and if that’s the way I’ve got to get starts, that’s fine.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he wasn’t too concerned about fielding Swarzak on such short notice because the 28-year-old lets him know constantly how available he is.
“It’s an everyday thing,” Gardenhire said. “ ‘I’m here if you need me. I can start. Whatever you need, I’m good to go.’ ”
Swarzak began his Twins career as a starter in 2009, but over the past three years he primarily has served as a safety-net long reliever. Getting the call Wednesday after Kyle Gibson was scratched because of a stiff back, Swarzak (2-0) threw 74 pitches, including 51 strikes, in five innings, giving up a run on two hits and a walk with three strikeouts.
He was only expected to make 60 pitches in four innings, but Gardenhire was comfortable stretching Swarzak out after seeing how he performed.
“He had all of his pitches,” Gardenhire said. “He mixes pitches really well. He’s deceptive. He has a slow windup and then the ball comes out pretty good.”
Swarzak’s one difficult inning was the third, when he threw 20 pitches and gave up the lone Indians run on a run-scoring double by Jose Ramirez. Swarzak escaped further damage thanks to his defense: With runners on second and third and two outs, shortstop Eduardo Nunez made a diving catch of Michael Brantley’s line drive up the middle. Swarzak waited outside the dugout to thank Nunez.
“I threw too many pitches there in the third,” said Swarzak, who retired the last seven batters he faced. “It would have been a lot more, too, if it wasn’t for such a great defensive play by Nunez. That was the play of the game, hands down. That is why we won.”
That, and because the Twins scored enough to help Swarzak and five relievers. Danny Santana tripled and scored on Sam Fuld’s single in the third; Brian Dozier’s two-out double in the fifth scored Santana with the go-ahead run two innings later; and Oswaldo Arcia hit his first home run in 21 games in the sixth, with all the runs scoring off Trevor Bauer (4-5).
“We did a good job today,” Dozier said. “But at the same time, to be an elite team, a playoff-contending team, you have to drive people in when they get in scoring position.”
Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan said it was premature to judge if Swarzak’s performance would lead to any more starts, but he added that the door is open for any pitcher at the moment.
“(Ricky) Nolasco’s down, Gibson’s sore, (Kris) Johnson got his shot,” Ryan said. “We’re scrambling a little bit. We have to see somebody step up.”
Swarzak said there hasn’t been any indication he will make another start. Perhaps another start could yield an even better performance; he said he was so excited after learning of his start at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday that he didn’t fall asleep until 3:15 a.m.
“I’m curious to see how I could pitch when I actually get some sleep,” he said.
©2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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