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Updated: July 16th, 2011 9:01pm
Twins Daily: Welcome back! Nathan gets save in return to closer role

Twins Daily: Welcome back! Nathan gets save in return to closer role

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The sellout crowd came to its feet and roared as Joe Nathan jogged in from the bullpen. Then, the veteran went to work just like old times. Michael Cuddyer's RBI single gave the Twins the lead in the bottom of the eighth and Nathan stranded the potential tying run on second base in the ninth, sealing a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals at Target Field.

The skinny

It was a 24-hour rollercoaster for Nathan and the Twins, who went from watching Matt Capps blow his seventh save to seeing their longtime closer -- reinserted into the role after Friday's 2-1 loss -- do the job in the most familiar of spots.

Billy Butler popped out to second base. Then Eric Hosmer, who hit the homer that sunk Capps on Friday, rolled a single through the right side and stole second after Jeff Francouer fouled out to first.

That put the potential tying run in scoring position for Mike Moustakas, who hit a lazy fly to right field on a 2-1 pitch to end it and bring Nathan a second standing ovation from the raucous crowd of 41,295.

"To get that first one out of the way is definitely nice," said Nathan, who hadn't closed a game since April 8, eight days before his second straight blown save prompted the Twins to give Capps a try.

"Especially with the way that it's been pretty tough in the ninth inning for us lately, just try to get one for us right now and try to come here (Sunday) and win a series."

It came on a night the Twins (43-49) and right-hander Carl Pavano squandered a three-run lead, only to recover.

Joe Mauer's groundout and Delmon Young's double each drove in a run in the first inning, and Drew Butera's homer down the left field line made it 3-0 in the fourth. The Royals cut the deficit to 3-2 on Alcides Escobar's two-out, two-run homer in the fifth, then tied it on Eric Hosmer's RBI groundout in the sixth.

But unlike on Friday, the Twins pushed across a run when they needed it in the eighth -- and had the right man on the mound to get three outs in the ninth.

"It's a tribute to our team and our pitching staff, to come out and shut them down again," said bench coach Scott Ullger, who took over managerial duties when Ron Gardenhire left because of illness.

"That was a crushing blow (Friday) night, obviously, and we came back and got the job done."

Coupled with Cleveland's loss to Baltimore, the Twins pulled back within six games of first place in the American League Central Division standings. After Sunday's series finale against the Royals, the Twins open a four-game series against the Indians with a day-night doubleheader on Monday.

"Winning series is the biggest thing for us right now," said Nathan, who believes he could throw up to three days in a row if needed in save situations.

"If we're going to have any change of catching Cleveland or Detroit or Chicago for that matter, we've got to go out and play good baseball. So, we've got to enjoy this real quick and turn around (Sunday) and have another hot one (Sunday) and go out and try to win a game."

Turning point

Royals starter Jeff Francis made a sensational play on Ben Revere's leadoff bunt in the bottom of the eighth, flipping the ball to first baseman Eric Hosmer with his glove. But that was the last out Francis recorded.

Alexi Casilla dumped a flare in front of sliding right fielder Jeff Francouer. Joe Mauer rolled a single through the right side, putting runners at the corners and bringing right-handed reliever Aaron Crow on to face Cuddyer.

After chasing a breaking ball out of the zone to fall behind 1-2, Cuddyer got another and laced it into the right-center field gap, scoring Casilla with the go-ahead run.

"I was looking for the slider," Cuddyer said. "Sometimes, when you're looking for the pitch, you chase it no matter where it is. That's what I did on the 1-1 and then was able (to get the 1-2 pitch) up a little bit and fortunately, was able to throw it out in the outfield."

Numbers game

86: Game-time temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit), with little wind. "My calves were cramping up a little bit and I was out of gas," said Pavano, who threw 97 pitches (66 strikes) before departing after seven innings, six hits and three earned runs. "It was humid out there (Saturday). Guys picked me up big. I let the lead slip away those two innings."

250: Saves for Nathan in a Twins uniform.

1.08: Nathan's earned-run average in 8 1/3 innings over nine appearances since a stint on the disabled list with elbow trouble ended on June 24.

19-21: Twins' record in one-run games this season.

2: Former Twins catchers who participated in a ceremonial first pitch thrown by Bert Blyleven, whose No. 28 jersey was retired before the game. Tim Laudner, who caught Blyleven with the Twins from 1985 to '88, presented the ball. George Mitterwald, who caught Blyleven's first big-league pitch in 1970, caught the ball at home plate.

3: Pitchers for the rookie-league Elizabethton Twins who combined for a no-hitter on Saturday. Tim Shibuya, a 23rd-round pick in last month's draft, threw the first seven innings. Garrett Jewell and Steven Gruver each threw one to end it.

Health watch

• Gardenhire has been battling a viral infection in his esophagus. He was expected to be back for Sunday's game.

• CF Denard Span (concussion/whiplash) and OF Jason Kubel (foot) were scheduled to begin rehabilitation stints at Triple-A Rochester, with Span playing five innings in center field and Kubel serving as the designated hitter for nine on Monday. Gardenhire wants each player to get 30 to 45 at-bats before rejoining the Twins. "If they're not swinging good after six games and they're both still scuffling along, we'll add on (time)," Gardenhire said.

• LHP Glen Perkins remained gimpy a day after a ball hit him in the ankle during batting practice. "He's still fighting it," Gardenhire said. "He got hit right on the ankle bone. He's swollen up pretty good." Apparently, Perkins wasn't in too bad of shape -- he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, striking out two.

• 1B Justin Morneau (neck surgery) told the Pioneer Press he still has numbness in his fingers "but there's hope it will feel better." The Twins will reevaluate him on Monday, head athletic trainer Rick McWane said.

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow tenderness) remains on track to make his scheduled start on Monday.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (mild abdominal strain) was "just fine" after throwing 84 pitches in a rehab start with Rochester on Friday, McWane said. Slowey allowed three earned runs on six hits and struck out in 4 2/3 innings. He's scheduled to make his next start on Wednesday, McWane said, and his pitches won't be limited.

Overheard

"For 22 years, I got to play the greatest game in the world, and I'll tell you what, I miss it."
-- Blyleven, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 24.

On deck

Brian Duensing (6-7, 4.13 ERA) entered the All-Star break with consecutive solid starts, allowing two earned runs total over 16 innings against Tampa Bay and the Chicago White Sox. The left-hander already has started against the Royals three times this season and given the Twins a chance in all of them, going 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA, 12 strikeouts and no walks in 21 innings.

Kansas City will counter on Sunday (1:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN Twin Cities) with right-hander Felipe Paulino (1-2, 3.38), a 27-year-old Dominican acquired from the Colorado Rockies on May 26. In eight games (seven starts) with the Royals, Paulino has struck out 45 and allowed 23 runs (18 earned) in 48 innings (3.38 ERA).

Coming up

• Monday: vs. Cleveland, 12:10 p.m./7:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (7-5, 3.01) vs. TBA and RHP Anthony Swarzak (2-2, 3.38) vs. RHP Fausto Carmona (4-10, 5.78).
• Tuesday: vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (6-7, 4.76) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (8-6, 2.80).
• Wednesday: vs. Cleveland, 12:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (7-6, 3.99) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (11-4, 4.03).

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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