Chip Scoggins
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Chip Scoggins

Paul Molitor had a full plate of pivotal decisions Thursday and he didn't even make it until the end of his workday.

The Twins manager earned his first ejection of the season in the eighth inning of a 6-2 loss to Cleveland that moved slower than a 40-yard dash between three-toed sloths.

Molitor reached his breaking point with home plate umpire Alan Porter, who had an inconsistent strike zone all game. Molitor leapt out of the dugout to protest a checked-swing strikeout of catcher Jason Castro, and Porter gave Molitor a quick hook.

Molitor was upset that Porter didn't ask his colleagues for help on the checked swing.

"That's a hard call for him to make if he's tracking the pitch," Molitor said.

Molitor encountered his own set of difficult calls. He sent out his starting pitcher to start an inning with his pitch count at 93 to face the middle of Cleveland's order. He called for an intentional walk to load the bases. And he pinch-hit for his best defensive outfielder in the seventh inning of a close game with a short bench.

Baseball managers subject themselves to second-guessing on a daily basis with decisions involving their pitchers or substitutions. Molitor made three intriguing moves before getting tossed. Two worked out, one didn't.

"There are a lot of decisions in a close game when you're really trying to win and salvage one," he said. "You've got your best pitcher on the mound and you're trying to discern how far you can take him with a high pitch count. You don't have a lot of offensive bullets on the bench [with only three players because of a 13-member pitching staff]."

Molitor sent starter Ervin Santana to the mound in the sixth inning despite having thrown 93 pitches. Santana had struggled with his control, but he limited Cleveland's potent lineup to one run on four hits.

"He wanted to go back out, and we were monitoring him," Molitor said.

Santana rewarded his manager's faith by pitching a mostly clean inning. He faced four batters, walking one. He left the game after 113 pitches with a 2-1 lead.

The bullpen faltered, which led to a move that backfired. Cleveland tied the score in the seventh and had runners on second and third with one out. Molitor had Francisco Lindor intentionally walked to load the bases.

Reliever Taylor Rogers got ahead of Michael Brantley 0-2 in the count. Molitor's move looked smart until Rogers lost control and walked Brantley for what proved to be the game's decisive run.

Molitor went to his bullpen again that inning and Matt Belisle walked in another run.

"Certainly if you load the bases with an intentional walk there's always that risk," Molitor said.

A two-run deficit against Cleveland's bullpen is tough sledding, but Molitor saw a ray of hope when Eddie Rosario singled with one out in the seventh.

That brought up Byron Buxton. Cleveland manager Terry Francona changed pitchers, bringing in righthander Bryan Shaw.

Molitor countered by pinch-hitting lefty Eduardo Escobar for Buxton, who is basically an automatic out at this point.

"I don't look forward to pinch-hitting for guys in certain situations, especially when you've got almost three innings to play," Molitor said.

Escobar drew a walk so the switch worked, though the Twins stranded two runners. Molitor revealed his level of patience with Buxton in an important late-game situation.

In two at-bats Thursday, Buxton struck out and fouled out. He's now hitting .082 with 24 strikeouts. He's a mess at the plate.

Molitor said before the game that the team has no plans to send Buxton to the minors. But Molitor faces a balancing act between nurturing Buxton's development by giving him important at-bats vs. doing what's best for the team.

"If you have the luxury, you try to let guys figure it out," Molitor said. "Unless you give them big at-bats they're probably not going to gain a lot of experience. But on the other hand, you've got 24 other guys in there that you're trying to make the best decision for and are battling and trying to win a game."

Chip Scoggins •