Twins Daily: Nathan's adventurous ninth ends with first save since '09
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With a four-game series with the New York Yankees on the horizon, right-hander Nick Blackburn's solid outing on Sunday -- and a ninth-inning sweat by Joe Nathan -- helped the Minnesota Twins tally their first win of the season, avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.
It won't be confused with a masterpiece anytime soon, but Joe Nathan -- in his first regular-season appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery one year ago -- tallied his first save in 18 months, locking down a 4-3 victory over Toronto.
Graced with a two-run lead after Denard Span ripped a solo homer off former Twin Jon Rauch in the top of the ninth, Nathan allowed an infield single to Travis Snider, a warning-track fly ball to J.P. Arencibia, and a double to Mike McCoy, putting runners on second and third with one out. Yunel Escobar then plated a run with a sac fly to center to bring Toronto within one.
After walking both Juan Rivera and Jose Bautista, Nathan, who threw 31 pitches, retired Lind on a weak groundball to first baseman Michael Cuddyer for the final out.
Blackburn held an aggressive Blue Jays lineup to just two runs (one earned) on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking one and striking out two.
The Jays, who as a team hit 46 more home runs than any other team in 2010, cracked six long balls in the first two games of the series, but Blackburn was able to pitch down in the zone for the most part.
Toronto threatened in the bottom of the seventh while trailing 3-2, putting runners on second and third with one out, but right-hander Matt Capps came on in relief of left-hander Jose Mijares to put out the fire, inducing a weak grounder by Rivera and a liner by Bautista right to center fielder Span.
With Cecil beginning to labor, the Twins began the fifth inning by having six consecutive batters reach base. Matt Tolbert's RBI single put the Twins in front -- even though Danny Valencia was thrown out at home by left-fielder Travis Snider on the same play -- and Nishioka's single plated the third run. The Twins never relinquished the lead.
547: The number of days between Nathan's last save prior to Tommy John surgery (October 3, 2009) and save on Sunday. The right-hander's fastball topped out at 92, and his slider lacked the same bite from pre-surgery, but tallying that first save was likely a key hurdle.
270: The number of days between Justin Morneau's last hit in 2010 (July 7) and first hit in 2011, after a bleeding, broken-bat infield single. Morneau squared balls up a few times over the weekend prior to the infield hit.
2: Errors by Nishioka so far this season after a throwing gaffe in the fourth inning led to a Toronto run. Gardenhire told 1500 ESPN on Sunday that Nishioka and shortstop Alexi Casilla were still trying to work out some communication issues.
2: The number of home runs hit by the Twins this season through three games. Valencia's solo shot in the second inning gave the Twins a 1-0 lead on Sunday.
• C Joe Mauer was scheduled to take Sunday off regardless, but manager Ron Gardenhire did tell 1500 ESPN his catcher was "a little sorer than usual" after acting as a backstop for the erratic Francisco Liriano on Saturday.
• Span was the Twins' hottest hitter in Toronto, reaching base seven times in 13 plate appearances. His solo homer off Rauch in the ninth on Sunday gave Nathan some extra cushion as well.
• RHP Carl Pavano and LHP Francisco Liriano combined to allow 12 runs (11 earned) on 10 hits and seven walks in just 8 1/3 innings over the first two games of the season.
The Twins travel to New York for a four-game series with the Yankees, beginning on Monday when right-hander Scott Baker faces right-hander Ivan Nova.
Might as well get it out of the way early...
Along with losing nine straight playoff games to the Yankees -- including back-to-back ALDS sweeps in 2009 and 2010 -- the Twins are just 16-45 against the Pinstripers in the regular season under Gardenhire.
Baker comes off a spring where he battled through some elbow discomfort early on before winning the fifth starter job over Kevin Slowey. The right-hander said it still takes him a little longer than usual to get loose in the bullpen prior to his starts, but he expects that to get better as the season progresses.
Nova, 24, appeared in 10 games for the Yankees last season, posting a 4.50 ERA and 4.36 FIP in 42 innings, along with 26 strikeouts and 17 walks. His fastball averages 93 mph, with off-speed stuff resting between 80-85 mph.
• Tuesday: at New York Yankees, 6:05 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing vs. LHP CC Sabathia.
• Wednesday: at New York Yankees, 6:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 15.75 ERA) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia.
• Thursday: at New York Yankees, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (0-1, 8.31 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (1-0, 5.40).