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Woods Richardson turns in strong start but Twins shut out for second game in a row

PITTSBURGH – Simeon Woods Richardson stood next to the mound with his hands on his head as he watched a fly ball from Rowdy Tellez carry beyond the center field wall for a home run in the seventh inning Saturday.

Talk about a dispiriting ending to one of Woods Richardson's better outings. The rookie struck out six, threw the fastest pitch of his career and gave up only one run in his longest start of the season. Except with the way the Twins are hitting, one run is all it took in a 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

The Twins, on a five-game losing streak, were shut out for the second game in a row and haven't scored a run in 22 innings.

"Some of this is probably mental at this point, and not just the physical aspect of going out there and trying to hit a line drive," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "We expanded too much. They put us ahead in counts. We ended up deep in counts and these are at-bats that ... maybe we're trying to do too much because we're swinging at some stuff that we shouldn't be swinging at sometimes."

The Twins, facing six Pirates relievers in a bullpen game, had only one baserunner reach third base and hit into three double plays. Pirates second baseman Nick Gonzales stole potentially two runs in a scoreless game with an over-the-shoulder, sliding catch in shallow center field to end the seventh inning.

Less than three months into the season, the Twins have had three separate losing streaks of at least five games. They had a 28-inning scoreless drought last month.

"We have a lot of guys that can do more than what they're doing right now," Baldelli said. "I can't tell you it's one reason. It's hard when you play really good baseball, then you show up and you hit a moment in time, and for a week, you just feel like you can't do anything right."

Woods Richardson had retired 12 of his last 13 batters, a fielding error serving as the exception, before he surrendered his homer to Tellez. Pitching in the seventh inning for the first time in his career, the 23-year-old left a changeup up in a 2-2 count, and Tellez lifted it just beyond the outstretched glove of a leaping Byron Buxton at the center field wall.

"Poorly executed," Woods Richardson said. "He's a professional hitter. I gave him a cookie. Professional hitters do something with that."

Tellez, who has slumped badly this year with a career-low .553 OPS, went from booed when his name was introduced before each of his at-bats to a curtain call with fans chanting, "Rowdy! Rowdy!"

Woods Richardson had stretches of complete dominance as he lowered his ERA to 2.84 through 10 starts. He struck out the side in the fourth inning, looking frustrated when he didn't locate his slider the way he wanted despite a swing-and-miss from Nick Gonzalez. He pumped out a 97-mph fastball on his next pitch. He did almost a pirouette skipping off the mound after his strikeout to end the inning.

"Just trying to be present in the game and execute pitches," said Woods Richardson, who averaged 90.5 mph on his fastball last year. "It can be 100 mph, but it has to be a strike."

BOXSCORE: Pittsburgh 4, Twins 0

After his homer, Tellez received a loud ovation when he came up with two on and two out in the eighth inning. Facing Jhoan Duran in a one-run game, Tellez lined a two-run single to left, eliciting more cheers from the announced crowd of 29,700.

Woods Richardson and Friday starter Joe Ryan gave up a combined three runs in 13⅓ innings. They both lost.

"It's tough to watch, but it's tough in the dugout, too," Baldelli said. "Guys are really working to stay positive. They're trying to make adjustments. They're pulling for their teammates. They're doing all the things they're supposed to do, the things that I ask them do, but we have to find something else and we have to keep going. No one is going to slow down for us because we're having trouble scoring runs right now."