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Updated: June 4th, 2011 9:21pm
Twins Daily: Casilla stays hot, bullpen steps up in 3rd straight win

Twins Daily: Casilla stays hot, bullpen steps up in 3rd straight win

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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The absence of two more regulars had the Minnesota Twins playing small ball on Saturday night -- and they couldn't have done it much better. Alexi Casilla had four hits, including three of the Twins' 10 singles, and the bullpen threw four scoreless innings after Nick Blackburn's early exit to put away the Royals 7-2 at Kauffman Stadium.

The skinny

With one game to go in Kansas City, the Twins (20-37) already have won their first long series of the season and matched a season high with three consecutive wins.

They kept the good vibes going on Saturday despite scratching Justin Morneau (left wrist) or Denard Span (sore neck) before the first pitch and losing Blackburn to back tightness after five innings.

They bunted. They hit-and-ran. They built a four-run lead with only two extra-base hits before Michael Cuddyer's ninth-inning home run to left-center field -- his second in as many nights -- and got just enough from their beleaguered bullpen, which survived four walks in as many innings.

Now they have a chance for their first four-game sweep of the Royals (25-33) at the same time the first-place Indians have lost three in a row, with a key three-game series set to begin on Monday in Cleveland.

Turning points

The Twins scored twice in the top of the sixth to regain a 3-2 lead. Then, they broke open the game with five straight hits to start the seventh.

Rene Rivera started things with a perfectly placed bunt single down the third-base line. Matt Tolbert doubled to left. Ben Revere's broken-bat flare got up the middle to score Rivera, and Casilla followed with his fourth hit -- tying a career high set on Sept. 3, 2007 -- on a line-drive single to left-center that scored Matt Tolbert and chased Royals starter Luke Hochevar.

Michael Cuddyer added an RBI single to left field off before reliever Louis Coleman escaped the jam, leaving the bases full by striking out Jason Repko.

The damage was done. Jim Hoey struck out Jeff Francouer with a man on second to end the seventh, Alex Burnett got Alcides Escobar to bounce out with two on in the eighth and Jose Mijares induced a Francouer flyout with one on in the ninth to end it.

Numbers game

.188: Casilla's batting average (19-for-101) through May 23.

.414: Casilla's batting average (17-for-41) since May 24, raising his average to .254 for the season.

39: Players the Twins have used this season, after Brian Dinkelman started in left field on Saturday.

1: Big-league pitches it took Dinkelman to reach base. A breaking ball from Luke Hochevar hit him in the right foot in the second inning. Dinkelman also made a diving catch to take away a hit from Alex Gordon in the fifth, got his first major-league hit on a single in the sixth and was intentionally walked in the seventh.

0: American League players who had drawn an intentional walk in their major-league debuts since Toronto's Luis Lopez on April 29, 2001, against Anaheim.

5: Relievers the Twins used over the final four innings -- Anthony Slama, Phil Dumatrait, Hoey, Burnett and Mijares.

13½: Twins' deficit in the AL Central behind Cleveland (33-23), which leads Detroit (29-27) by four games.

Health watch

• 1B Justin Morneau (left wrist) and CF Denard Span (sore neck) were late scratches from Saturday's game. Morneau could get Sunday off, too.

• C Joe Mauer (leg weakness/sore shoulder) caught five innings in an extended spring training game, throwing out a baserunner and going 1-for-4 with a walk. He is scheduled to begin his official rehabilitation assignment as a designated hitter with the Single-A Fort Myers Miracle on Sunday.

• IF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured fibula) is scheduled to join the Miracle for his rehab assignment on Monday.

• P Francisco Liriano (shoulder) told reporters he didn't feel 100% healthy during a bullpen session but expects to make his scheduled start on Tuesday at Cleveland.

On deck

Left-hander Brian Duensing (2-5, 5.37 ERA) enters Sunday's series finale (1:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities) without a win in his last seven outings. He scuffled badly in May, going 0-4 with an 8.76 ERA in 24 2/3 innings over six appearances, including a rain-shortened start on May 7 at Boston and a rare relief outing three days later against Detroit that coaches have blamed for disturbing his rhythm. The Tigers knocked him out with a six-run fifth inning on Tuesday.

Duensing has had some success against the Royals, going 4-1 with a 3.15 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 40 innings. Kansas City will counter with left-hander Jeff Francis (2-5, 4.46), a first-round pick (ninth overall) in 2002 who pitched parts of six seasons with the Colorado Rockies before signing with the Royals in January. The 30-year-old Canadian missed the 2009 season following shoulder surgery, and his fastball now tops out in the mid-80s. Francis has faced the Twins only twice, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA, 12 strikeouts and three walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Coming up

• Monday: at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (2-4, 3.86) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (7-2, 3.27).
• Tuesday: at Cleveland, 6:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (3-5, 5.73) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (4-3, 5.18).
• Wednesday: at Cleveland, 11:05 a.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.83) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (5-4, 3.28).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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