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Lynn struggles in Twins' matinee loss to Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Greg Garcia forces out Minnesota Twins third baseman Gregorio Petit and attempts a double play in the fifth inning at Target Field on Wednesday, May 16. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Lance Lynn insisted this would be just another start for him. There would be nothing special about this first-ever assignment against the St. Louis Cardinals, his former organization for the past decade.

Turned out Lynn was right. The three innings he worked on a muggy, slow-moving Wednesday afternoon fit neatly with the rest of his abbreviated body of work with the Twins, who have now lost six of the eight starts the veteran right-hander has made since signing 17 days before the season opener.

“For me it was another bad start this year,” Lynn said after a 7-5 loss. “That’s pretty much all I’ve done so far, so it wasn’t any different.”

Logan Morrison drove in two late runs with a homer and a single, but by then the Twins were on their way to a loss that kept them from completing a four-game interleague sweep of the Cardinals. They had outscored the Cardinals 17-2 and out-hit them 30-8 before things went sideways for Lynn once again.

His earned-run average climbing to an uncomfortable cruising altitude of 7.47, Lynn gave up all three of his runs on two-out hits: Dexter Fowler’s sharp single up the middle in the first inning and Jose Martinez’s grounder past a diving Morrison in the second.

Tommy Pham opened the game with a line single at 110.1 mph, and things hardly improved for Lynn from there as he departed after piling up 82 pitches.

“Lance is still fighting it as far as command,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Up here it can be a fine line sometimes. It just hasn’t happened. Pitching against the Cardinals I’m sure was something he was looking forward to, but it didn’t work out particularly well.”

Lynn issued four more walks, including a 10-pitch pass to free-swinging catcher Francisco Pena that was Pena’s first non-intentional walk this year. Lynn has walked 29 in 37L innings for a nine-inning walk rate of 6.99, double his career mark and second-worst of 201 pitchers with at least 20 innings before Wednesday.

Only Chicago Cubs righty Tyler Chatwood (7.65 BB/9) has struggled more to find the zone, while only Chicago White Sox righty Lucas Giolito (32) has walked more batters among American League pitchers.

“I think he’s aware that it’s been a struggle so far,” Molitor said. “Sometimes, either subconsciously or consciously, you’re trying a little bit too hard to get it back on track.”

It took Lynn 15 batters and 77 pitches to get his fifth swing-and-miss strike of the day. Since a trainer visit in Anaheim, Calif., for what Lynn termed a “zinger” in his left hip/back area, he has recorded just eight swinging strikes in his past 136 pitches.

That’s a 5.9 percent rate for a pitcher with a 95-mph fastball who had been getting whiffs 10.8 percent of the time this year and has done so at a 9.2-percent clip in a big-league career that dates to 2011. His batting average on balls in play was .381 coming in, fourth-worst in the majors, and the 31-year-old was allowing nearly two baserunners per inning.

Molitor shot down any suggestion there has been a physical component to Lynn’s woes.

“I think he’s in a good place and his arm feels good,” he said.

While Lynn is on a one-year, $12 million deal after turning down the Cardinals’ $17.4 million qualifying offer in November, his numbers over his first eight starts compare unfavorably with such disastrous Twins free-agent signings as Ricky Nolasco and Mike Pelfrey.

In 2014, Nolasco was 2-3 with a 5.51 ERA through his first eight Twins starts as he tried to pitch through a strained elbow. Nolasco allowed nine home runs and a .554 slugging percentage, but he had walked just 12 in 50L innings.

A year earlier, Pelfrey opened 3-4 with a 6.57 ERA through eight starts. The sinker specialist allowed four homers and a .536 slugging percentage, but he walked 11 in 38 innings.

“You can feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do or close,” Lynn said. “It just doesn’t go your way or something kind of snowballs on you. That’s kind of been how it has been going since the season started for me.”

The Twins brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth against closer Bud Norris, but pinch hitter Eduardo Escobar struck out and Gregorio Petit grounded out after a wild pitch narrowed the deficit to two.

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