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Minneapolis — Maybe you thought Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire would give his club a pass for these two losses to the Twins this weekend.

After all, they played without two of their top hitters — Nick Castellanos (toe) and Niko Goodrum (illness) — and lost their middle infielders Jordy Mercer (quad) and Josh Harrison (shoulder) during the game Saturday.

But Gardenhire was not in a charitable mood following a frustrating 6-4 loss Sunday.

BOX SCORE: Twins 6, Tigers 4

"No, I expect the guys in the lineup to step up," he said. "We need to shorten our swings up and put the ball in play a little bit. We're taking big whiffs an awful lot. As we talked about for a long time around here, there is such a thing as a two-strike approach.

"We need people to buy into it a little bit."

The Tigers struck out 13 times Sunday. John Hicks had five of them, making him the first Tigers player to strike out five times in a game since Prince Fielder in 2013.

The Tigers had the tying runs on base in the eighth inning, and both Hicks and Gordon Beckham struck out to strand the runners.

They put the first two runners on again in the ninth against Twins closer Blake Parker. But, with shadows hovering between the mound and the plate, Miguel Cabrera struck out.

"It got real ugly at the end, guys couldn't see the ball coming in," Gardenhire said. "The last couple of guys, the ball is just black this time of day with the shadows. It got darker and darker and you couldn't see spin."

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After Christin Stewart worked a nine-pitch walk, the Twins brought right-handed, side-arm throwing Trevor Hildenberger, who does nothing but spin the baseball, in to face Hicks and Grayson Greiner.

Hildenberger struck them both out to end the game.

"Just a lot of strikeouts," Gardenhire said. "It was a frustrating day for us. We put runners on and didn't get any big hits."

The Tigers were 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position Sunday, 5 for 27 in the series. Nine of those outs were strikeouts.

"We have to get better at that," Gardenhire said. "And I've said it all along. We have guys who should hit the ball out of the park, but there's also a way to cut down on the strikeouts and put the ball in play and give yourself a chance.

"We'll get better as we go along. We have a lot of young people in the lineup. We'll get better."

Beckham hit a two-run home run off Twins starter Jose Berrios in the second inning, and then the Tigers didn't get another hit until the eighth inning. By that point, they were in a 6-2 hole after a second straight rough start for Jordan Zimmermann.

He gave up one run in his first two starts, nine earned in his last two.

"It's weird how it can happen," said Zimmermann, who was tagged for five runs and eight hits in three innings Sunday. "You have two really, really good starts, then have a long layoff (seven days) and it almost feels like you're lost out there."

Five of the Twins hits left the bat at exit velocities better than 100 mph, including a two-run, line-drive home run by C.J. Cron that screamed off the bat at 113.5 mph.

"For some reason, my slider is not doing what it's supposed to do right now," he said. "It's just spinning. I don't know if it's me not getting out front or what. I'll go look at the film and see if I can figure something out.

"It's my best pitch and I need it. If I don't have it, this is the kind of stuff that happens."

The Twins put seven sliders into play Sunday with an average exit velocity of 92 mph. Max Kepler in the first inning led off with a double on a ball that left his bat at 112 mph.

Of the eight hits he allowed in the three innings, five went for extra bases.

"It was one of those days where it seemed like everything I threw in there, they knew it was coming," Zimmermann said. "I am not saying they knew. I mean, could I be tipping my pitches? Maybe. But no matter what I threw in there, they seemed to know it was coming."

Stewart, who homered on Saturday, doubled and got on base three times Sunday. He also had the hardest-hit ball off Berrios. He drove one to the fence in center field in the third inning, but Byron Buxton made an incredible over-the-shoulder catch before hitting the wall at full speed.

The Tigers have now lost three straight and are one game over .500 (8-7).

"We're not playing good baseball and still we lost these two games by two runs and one run, against a pretty good team," Greiner said. "So, we're not playing to the level I think we can as a team. But we will get there.

"The off-day (Monday) will be good to kind of reset and get back and try to win a couple of series at home."

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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