MINNEAPOLIS -- One day before a huge home series against division-leading Cleveland, and with a pitching staff already under stress from a brutal stretch of 19 games in 18 days, right-hander Scott Baker told the Minnesota Twins he wouldn't be able to make his scheduled start in the series opener.
The Twins placed Baker on the disabled list with an elbow strain after a 4-3 victory over the Royals on Sunday, sending them into another scramble in what has been a season full of trying to paper over injuries.
"Anytime a pitcher's uncertain whether he can go or not you just have to back off here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There's no risk you can take, if he says he's unsure of it then so are we."
Baker has been one of the Twins' top pitchers this season. He missed his final start before the All-Star break after feeling a twinge in his elbow, but said then that he figured the extra time off would be more than enough for him to get right.
He told the Twins earlier on Sunday that he was good to go and was scheduled to start the opener of a doubleheader on Monday against the Indians. But he had second thoughts as the day went on, and told them during the game that he didn't feel ready to do it.
"Thought he could pitch, but he didn't know the ramifications after he pitched how that would come into play and if he'd be really sore and end up having to miss starts after it," Gardenhire said. "When a player tells me something like that we're not even going to take a chance."
The Twins' victory over the Royals, coupled with Cleveland's loss to Baltimore on Sunday, moved Minnesota to five games behind the Indians in the AL Central, a stunningly close margin given the Twins were 16 1/2 games behind on June 1.
But rather than have possibly their best starter take the mound for the series opener on what is expected to be another sweltering day at Target Field, the Twins will give the nod to Anthony Swarzak, a fill-in from the bullpen who was originally slated to start the night game.
"There's no way I can put him out on the mound if he's not sure he can start, so that's just the way you have to go here," Gardenhire said of Baker. "I can't risk that, him going out and hurting himself out on the mound and costing us a month. It's not going to happen."
The Twins selected the contract of left-hander Scott Diamond from Triple-A Rochester, and he will start the nightcap. Diamond is 4-8 with a 4.70 ERA in 17 starts for the Red Wings this year after the Twins selected him in the Rule 5 draft.
The Twins also sent infielder Matt Tolbert to Rochester and recalled lefty Chuck James to add one more arm to a pitching staff that is going to be awfully busy through the rest of July.
James is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 26 appearances in Rochester.