Sweeney, Gaudin lead A's past Twins

Sweeney, Gaudin lead A's past Twins

OAKLAND -- Hobbled by a sore right knee, Mike Sweeney hadn't played in nearly a week when A's manager Bob Geren asked him to pinch-hit against Twins closer Joe Nathan on Tuesday night.

Minnesota fans couldn't have been happy to see Sweeney, who treated Twins pitchers like chew toys during his many years (1995-2006) with the Kansas City Royals.

Sweeney singled off Nathan, of course, but that one at-bat wasn't enough for Sweeney to prevent the A's from dropping the opener of a three-game set. So Geren on Wednesday gave Sweeney his first start since Saturday, and the veteran designated hitter was a one-man wrecking crew on offense in Oakland's 3-0 victory.

"Awesome," A's starter and winner Chad Gaudin said of Sweeney, who went 2-for-3 with his first home run of the season, played a hand in all three runs and even provided a boost on the bases. "It just shows the dedication and mental discipline the guy has."

After boosting his career batting average against the Twins to .335 in 132 games, with 23 homers and 104 RBIs, Sweeney humbly steered clear of any declaration of ownership but did concede that Minnesota is a team he enjoys taking on.

"Most of the years I was in Kansas City, they were the Yankees of the [American League] Central, and you have to gear up for the better teams, so you had to get excited for them," Sweeney said. "They might be in a rebuilding year right now, but they're still the Minnesota Twins."

And Sweeney continues killing them.

"Sweeney seems to have some good swings against us," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We pitch him inside, we pitch him outside. It's a bullet to right and it's a home run. Sweeney is a good hitter -- always has been a good hitter. And when he's healthy and has a bat in his hand, he's very dangerous."

With a clean bill of health and a ball in his hand, Gaudin is pretty dangerous, too. In a dominant performance reminiscent of his lights-out first half a year ago (8-3, 2.88 ERA), Gaudin needed just 84 pitches to carve his way through seven innings of four-hit work without a walk before Alan Embree and Huston Street each worked a frame to preserve the shutout.

"That was one of the best outings I've seen from him," Geren said.

Gaudin, who had surgery on his left hip and right foot on the same day in December and missed most of Spring Training, allowed eight earned runs over 10 innings on 12 hits and five walks in his first two starts this season.

Since making a mechanical adjustment -- he recently stopped bringing his hands over his head to start his windup in an effort to maintain eye contact with his target -- and focusing more intently on pounding the inside half of the plate against left-handed hitters, he's allowed one earned run on eight hits while striking out 12 and walking one over 14 innings.

On Wednesday, Gaudin gave up an infield single to open the game and didn't allow another hit until Jason Kubel's single with one out in the fifth.

"Gaudin was really good," offered Gardenhire. "I think he located the ball down in the zone, in and out, had a great breaking ball and didn't really give us too many opportunities to do anything with him. A lot of ground balls rolling over the top."

Kubel gave Gaudin his only real scare of the night when, with a runner on and two out in the seventh, he launched a ball down the right-field line that looked for a moment like a game-tying homer. It landed just foul, though, and after Kubel singled, Gaudin retired Craig Monroe to end his outing unscathed.

"I was thinking, 'Wow, he crushed that ball,'" Gaudin said of Kubel's long foul. "But once I looked at it, I knew it was hooking foul, so ... long strike."

Sweeney struck early and often. He drew a leadoff walk in the second, hustled from first to third on Jack Cust's single, and scored on Emil Brown's sacrifice fly. An inning later, he stroked a two-out single to score Daric Barton, and in the eighth he gave Street some extra breathing room with a bolt into the seats down the left-field line.

The homer was particularly timely given the recent concern regarding Oakland's paucity of power production, prompting speculation that the A's are interested in signing free agent slugger Frank Thomas. Were the Big Hurt to return, Sweeney might find himself out of a job.

The A's still rank last in the American League with nine homers as a team, and Sweeney's big night won't altogether quiet the Thomas speculation. But it did serve as a reminder that the 34-year-old Twins killer has a little something left in the tank.

"He'll hit more homers," Geren said. "It's early."

Added Sweeney: "I think if we were playing in a dome, we might have better power numbers. Oakland is not a good place to hit home runs in April."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.