John Gant throws five scoreless frames as Twins beat Cleveland

His second start was better than his first. His third better than his second. But none were as good as his fourth, which, to date, was the best of all.

John Gant is trying to carve out a role for himself moving forward — he is arbitration-eligible this offseason — and on Tuesday, he turned in his most impressive performance yet as a Twin. Five shutout innings from Gant helped lead the Twins to a 3-0 win over Cleveland on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, an outing which he capped off with three straight strikeouts.

When the Twins (61-77) traded for Gant ahead of the July 30 deadline, the righty had walked the same number of batters, 56, as he had struck out. Since becoming a Twin, Gant has struck out 32 batters, including seven on Tuesday, and walked 10. Four of those walks did come on Tuesday, but each time he issued a free pass, he was able to work around it to keep Cleveland off the board.

“I’ve worked on a couple things with (pitching coach) Wes (Johnson) and I’ve been feeling a little better with it lately,” Gant said of his changeup, which he got eight whiffs on. “I felt real confident throwing it. I felt like it made all of my pitches better.”

Gant only faced serious trouble once in his outing. In the third, he loaded the bases with a pair of outs, but he was able to extract himself by getting dangerous Cleveland (63-68) designated hitter Franmil Reyes to hit a 3-1 pitch to Byron Buxton, who was waiting for the ball on the warning track right at the wall in center field.

“I didn’t think he got it full-on, but he’s a big ol’ boy, you know what I’m saying?” Gant said. “He doesn’t really have to get it full-on for it to go. I didn’t really know what was going to happen. I was hanging on the edge of my feet, if you will.”

Gant didn’t get much run support on Tuesday — and he didn’t need much of it —  pitching in a tied game until the fifth inning. The Twins scored their first run in that frame as Andrelton Simmons’ RBI single up the middle plated Max Kepler, who had walked and stolen second earlier in the inning.

Outfielder Brent Rooker homered in the seventh inning, doubling the Twins’ lead at the time, and Luis Arraez cushioned the lead in the ninth inning, driving in Simmons with a triple to right to give the Twins’ bullpen some more breathing room.

Jorge Alcala, Juan Minaya and Caleb Thielbar all threw scoreless innings out of the Twins’ bullpen before Alexander Colomé, pitching in his fourth straight game, came in and locked down his third save in as many days.

“Wes came up to me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘It’s up to Alex as far as if he feels he can do it or not.’ We did tell him tomorrow he can watch the game,” acting manager Bill Evers said with a smile.

Colomé’s effort helped Gant seal his first win as a Twin. His last came on May 26 when he was with the Cardinals. In that start, he also threw five scoreless frames.

“The boys scratched and clawed, made some plays tonight and pushed some runs across the board,” Gant said. “All in all, a good team win.”

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