Twins Daily: Joe Mauer drives in run, sparking early surge in victory
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Mauer's first big-league at-bat in more than two months yielded an RBI single, two standing ovations and one of five first-inning runs for the Minnesota Twins, who survived a brutal appearance by reliever Alex Burnett to beat the San Diego Padres 6-5 in Friday's series opener at Target Field.
Starting at catcher and batting third for the first time since April 12, Mauer took the first three pitches he saw from Padres lefty Clayton Richard, fouled off two others and eventually grounded a 3-2 fastball through the middle to score Alexi Casilla and bring the sellout crowd of 39,205 to its feet.
"It felt real good just to get back in there and get back in the atmosphere and come home," said Mauer, who also got a rousing welcome when he stepped into the batter's box.
"That was the biggest thing. It's been a long time, and I was just so excited to get out there with my teammates and get a win."
"You can't replace Joe Mauer," Valencia said. "His presence alone, him being a part of the team and hitting in the middle of the lineup -- it's great. It's good to have him back."
It was 6-2 when Brian Duensing exited after six innings, seven hits and 106 pitches (69 strikes). But the Padres (30-41) mounted a two-out rally against Burnett, who gave up a pair of singles before Ryan Ludwick matched Valencia with a three-run blast into the second deck in left, cutting the Twins' lead to one.
Glen Perkins, making his own return from the disabled list, worked around a leadoff single by striking out the last two men he faced in the eighth. And Matt Capps got a couple of long fly-ball outs -- including a Chris Denorfia drive that died on the warning track in center -- on his way to a 1-2-3 ninth and his second save in as many days.
That bailed out Burnett and Mauer, who scuffled in his final three at-bats and left five men on base. He bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to end the second, grounded out to the pitcher in the fifth and lined out to left field with the bases loaded in the sixth against former teammate Pat Neshek.
"I was running on all adrenaline (Friday)," Mauer said. "I feel great. It was a good night, obviously, to get the win. I'm going to anticipate feeling really good (on Saturday), too, but that's why I'm back there working."
The win was the Twins' 12th in their past 14 games and pulled them within 10 games of the .500 mark for the first time since May 10. Meanwhile, Detroit's loss to Pittsburgh dropped the Tigers (38-32) percentage points behind the Cleveland Indians (37-31) -- eight games ahead of the Twins, who were 16½ back on June 1.
Chase Headley's RBI single pulled the Padres within four in the fifth inning and had a chance to put an early end to Duensing's night.
Phil Dumatrait was warming up in the bullpen when Ludwick came to the plate with two outs and runners on second and third. But shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka made a tough, skidding play to his right on Ludwick's grounder and converted the throw to first to end the threat.
"If some of those plays aren't made, it could be one of those things where you have a big inning again," Duensing said. "Fortunately, they made some really good plays and kept us in it -- kept me in it."
Had Nishioka failed to field the ball cleanly, it might have caromed into the outfield and scored two. It was an odd-looking play because Nishioka, who prefers to run around balls instead of turning over his glove, didn't use a backhand even though he played the ball on his right side.
"I didn't really care -- it was an out," said manager Ron Gardenhire, who thought Nishioka did backhand it. "But he did come in to me afterwards and said, 'Should I backhand that ball?' And I said, 'Yeah, that's a backhand probably.' But it's also a get-an-out play, so get an out whenever you can."
2: High socks worn by Duensing, who figured he had to try something new after getting rocked for seven runs in two innings of his last start. "To be honest, I was kind of fighting myself a lot," said Duensing, struck out five and walked one on Friday. "My release point was a little off, some mechanical issues, but overall, I'm really happy with the result. Haven't been throwing very well lately."
56: Games missed by Mauer, who was placed on the disabled list with bilateral leg weakness on April 14.
1: Bases overslid on Friday by Twins CF Ben Revere, who beat C Nick Hundley's throw with a head-first slide into third base in the first inning but was tagged out when his feet came off the bag. "I told our strength coach that I need a parachute, because that's like the 10th time I've done that," Revere said. "So. they told me to use gloves, I did, and I still kept sliding over the bag. So, I either need a parachute or some rubber gloves to stop me. I hate when I do that."
5: Runs the Twins scored before committing their second out of the game.
2: Errors the Padres committed in the first inning, not including a wild pitch and a passed ball.
2: Belts Revere went through, after breaking one on a sensational diving catch in the third inning. Umpires incorrectly called it a trap. "I felt my pants come really loose," Revere said. "I was walking, I looked around, I looked down and my belt was like totally snapped off. I was like, 'Uh, can I get a belt real quick?' But that's the first time I've ever done that."
17: Pitches thrown by Perkins, whose last big-league appearance was on May 21. "His fastball was jumping," Gardenhire said. "We saw that. He had a couple of nice breaking balls. But the fastball was coming out of his hand. That was evident. The last guy he threw to, he really just let it fly, said here it is and the ball was jumping out of his hand pretty good."
• DH Jim Thome (back/quadriceps) took batting practice on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., and is "very close to playing in games," according to head athletic trainer Rick McWane.
• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow tenderness) is scheduled to join Triple-A Rochester for a rehabilitation assignment on Saturday and could rejoin the Twins as soon as Friday in Milwaukee if all goes well.
• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) was scheduled to throw long toss on Friday and Saturday in Fort Myers, then go through a full bullpen session on Sunday. "He's pretty optimistic that he can start facing some hitters sometime next week," McWane said.
• 1B Justin Morneau's sore left wrist will remain in a cast for another week, and there will be no updates until the cast comes off.
"It's a great feeling. Too bad I've only felt it six times (this season). It'd be something you'd like to feel 20 to 30 times a year."
-- Valencia, who hadn't homered since May 21 at Arizona, a span of 90 plate appearances
Six days after throwing his first complete game since 2009, right-hander Scott Baker (4-4, 3.55) gets the ball for the Twins on Saturday (6:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities). He has gone at least six innings in four consecutive starts -- a stretch in which he has struck out 23, walked only three and allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 29 innings (2.48 ERA). In his only career start against San Diego, Baker gave up three runs in six innings and got the win on June 26, 2008.
He'll oppose Tim Stauffer (2-4, 3.28), a 29-year-old righty the Padres selected fourth overall in the 2003 draft. Stauffer is working on a 15-inning shutout streak over his past two starts in which he has struck out 13, walked four and allowed nine hits. According to FanGraphs.com, his fastball averages a little more than 90 mph and his No. 2 pitch is a slider. In his only start against the Twins, Stauffer gave up three earned runs on seven hits over five innings and got a no-decision.