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MIN@BAL: Willingham makes a nice play in foul grounds

BALTIMORE -- Being so early in the season, it wasn't exactly a must-win game for the Twins. But after dropping the first two games of the year against the Orioles, the club wanted to return home with at least one win in hand.

Instead, the Twins were nearly no-hit by Jason Hammel -- who saw his no-hit bid end on a double by Justin Morneau to lead off the eighth inning -- in a 3-1 loss on Sunday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

With the defeat, the Twins were swept by the Orioles and fell to 0-3 for just the third time since the team moved to Minnesota in 1961. The only other times it happened were in '69 and '81, when the Twins started the year 0-4.

"It's a tough pill to swallow, losing our first three games. But it's just that -- just the first three games," said catcher Ryan Doumit, who went 0-for-3. "We've got, what, 159 more to go? We're a good team. We're going to score some runs. We're going to pitch. We're going to play defense. It's obviously not the ideal way to start out the season, but it's three games."

The offense is expected to be one of the club's biggest strengths this season. But it has yet to manifest itself through the first three games, as Minnesota combined to score just five runs in the three losses.

The Twins are doing their best not to panic just yet, even though they have a tough 16-game stretch coming up against the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.

"We've got a lot of new guys, and maybe guys are trying to do a little too much and trying to impress [while] trying to get that first one out of the way," Morneau said. "But I think we have some good baseball players and some guys with experience. Once we [get] that first one, and once guys start to settle in a little bit, and our team starts to come together and do what we're capable of, I think we'll be much better than what we've shown so far."

Hammel was at his best, as before the eighth, the Twins managed just two walks -- Josh Willingham in the second inning and Morneau in the fifth. But Hammel was able to induce double-play groundouts in both innings.

The Twins also hit just two balls out of the infield before Morneau's double to lead off the eighth. But Morneau was able to break up the no-no by roping a first-pitch changeup from Hammel into right field for a standup double.

"I was just looking for something over the plate, a good pitch to hit," Morneau said. "He was getting ahead a lot with first-pitch strikes ... so I was just trying to be aggressive."

Willingham quickly broke up Hammel's shutout bid with an RBI double to left field to score Morneau. But Hammel was able to get out of the inning without any more damage.

"I haven't been much better than that," Hammel said. "I can still be better with my command."

Right-hander Anthony Swarzak turned in five strong innings in a spot start for the Twins, with Liam Hendriks out with food poisoning. But he simply couldn't keep up with Hammel.

The Orioles got out to an early lead on a homer for the third straight game, as former Twins shortstop J.J. Hardy connected on a solo shot off Swarzak in the first inning. But it was the only run allowed by Swarzak, as he settled down after that, allowing just four hits and two walks over five frames.

"It felt good to give the team a chance, but it's a loss," Swarzak said. "I felt like my fastball command could have been better, and maybe [I could have] gone into the sixth or seventh and maybe [changed] the ballgame."

Left-hander Matt Maloney relieved Swarzak in the sixth, but allowed a leadoff single to Adam Jones before plunking Nick Johnson with one out. The Orioles then pulled off a double steal before Wilson Betemit brought home both runners with a double off the center-field wall.

The Twins will look to get well at home, as they host the Angels in a three-game set starting on Monday. But it won't be easy, as they're set to face C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.

"It's nice to get home," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Unfortunately, you'd have liked to win a game or two here. You'd come home with a little bit better atmosphere in our clubhouse. Going home always should make you feel a little bit better, getting in front of our fans. So we'll see."

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