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Updated: July 20th, 2011 3:08pm
Twins Daily: Three-run eighth seals series split against Indians

Twins Daily: Three-run eighth seals series split against Indians

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Less than 24 hours after a walk-off single by Danny Valencia on Tuesday, the Minnesota Twins mounted another late-inning comeback to produce a 7-5 victory in a division battle against the Cleveland Indians.

The skinny

With their offense in full stride, the Minnesota Twins used a solid performance by Nick Blackburn and their bullpen to salvage a series split against the Indians.

"It was a good comeback for us from where we were with the doubleheader sweep," said Scott Ullger said, who served as acting manager after Ron Gardenhire left mid-game due to an on-going chest virus he has dealt with for several days. "Then we came and got these two games, so it was great for us."

Tied at four entering the eighth inning, the Twins put together three runs, starting with Valencia's line drive single that scored go-ahead runner Alexi Casilla. They would rally for two more in the inning.

"I like being in those positions like anybody on this team wants to be in that position, and fortunately it's been coming into my hands," Valencia said. "I've been able to take it and run with it and come through.

Blackburn's command came and went, but he surrendered only one earned run, four total, off four hits in six innings of work. One strikeout shy of his season-high, Blackburn fanned seven Indians batters en route to his second quality start in a row.

It was miscues in the field, not ineffectiveness by Blackburn, that cost the Twins three of the Indians' first four runs of the game. In the fourth inning, two runners scored off center fielder Ben Revere's error on an easy fly ball with the bases loaded, while catcher Drew Butera let a ball passed him in the sixth, which tied the score at four.

"There were a couple things that happened behind me, but we still ended up winning the game and that's what we need right now, all the wins, especially against teams that are ahead of us ... So, I'd take that outing every time," Blackburn said.

Casilla (3), Joe Mauer (2) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2) combined for seven of the Twins' 13 hits. Casilla, who scored twice, sparked the eighth inning rally with a deep double to center.  Following Valencia's big hit, Nishioka sent a screaming grounder into left that scored two more runs -- his first RBIs in seven games and first career multi-RBI game.

Eight games into their gauntlet of 12 straight against division opponents, the Twins have managed to continue their improbable comeback from 16 1/2 games back, with wins in six of their last eight. The series split puts the Twins back within 5 1/2 games of the first-place Tigers.

"We needed this," Valencia said. "We're within striking distance of getting back to the top of this division and that's what we're trying to do."

Turning points

Despite working themselves into a pair of jams, the Twins' bullpen once again was able to preserve the work by their starter.

Instead of having Blackburn throw well above the 100-pitch mark, the Twins called upon right-handed reliever Alex Burnett to face the Indians in the seventh inning with the score knotted at four.

The 2011 season has been an up-and-down affair for Burnett and Wednesday's appearance only added to it. Orlando Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall both reached on back-to-back singles, putting a runner into scoring position with no outs. The hole was dug further when Austin Kearns laid down a sac bunt to move Cabrera and Chisenhall to second and third, forcing the Twins to replace Burnett with Jose Mijares.

One run would have been palpable given the situation, but Mijares held strong. He got Luis Valbuena to pop up to Mauer off a second-pitch slider and Ezequiel Carrera to ground out to second, leaving the Target Field crowd to greet Mijares with a standing ovation as he walked back to the dugout.

The Twins were back in another potentially game-changing situation one inning later -- this time thanks to Mijares. On a 3-1 count, leadoff batter Asdrubal Cabreara drilled a fastball into left field for an easy double. Mijares had run out steam when the Twins pulled him one batter later for Matt Capps, who entered the game to a cascade of boos.

Pressure situations haven't been Capps' forte this season. However, the embattled right-hander maintained his composure. For the second straight night, Capps notched a scoreless appearance, working the count on both batters he faced and getting the two outs he needed.

It was the second game in a row the bullpen was pivotal in sealing a win. Chisenhall's home run in the ninth off Joe Nathan was the lone run the Indians scored on the bullpen in six total innings in the last two games.

Numbers game

8: Number of multi-hit games for Alexi Casilla in July, equaling his total from June. His three-hit game put him at 25 multi-hit games this season.

.125:  Danny Valencia's batting average (2-for-16) this season in games a day after he ends the prior game with a walk-off hit. Valencia's bases-loaded RBI single in the eighth inning brought in Casilla and broke a 4-4 tie.

3: Times in the last two games that Drew Butera threw out runners at second base. He nailed two base runners on Wednesday.

21-14: Twins' record against AL Central opponents this season, which is tops in the division.

Overheard

"He's the greatest ever, literally. He's awesome," Valencia said. "Unbelievable target, scoops balls, he's quick out there and he's just so athletic that you really appreciate what he does. I mean it's unbelievable he's playing as well as he is over there and he's hitting too. Look, it's Joe Mauer, what else do you expect?"

-- Valencia on Mauer's post-All-Star break surge in which he has posted a .513 batting average in eight games (14-for-27). On Wednesday, he was back at first base -- a position he has adapted to remarkably quickly.

Health report

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained left foot) is slated to play in right field for Triple-A Rochester Wednesday after serving as DH last night. Twins head trainer Rick McWane said Kubel has had no problems running and is feeling good, but the team wants to give him more time to ensure the injured foot is fully healed. "He's moving around fine, but we also know that when he was down in Ft. Myers he made one wrong turn and it popped back on him," Gardenhire said.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) took a day off from his rehab assignment. He played in three straight games for the Red Wings, experiencing no symptoms from the concussion that has kept him out since Jun. 6. McWane said the Twins plan to have him start in the Red Wings' day game on Thursday. Like Kubel, the Twins don't want to bring Span back until he finds his pre-injury hitting stroke. He has only one hit in nine at-bats. "It's not a time when you can bring these guys up here and let them find their swing," Gardenhire said. "They need to be swinging. We're going to do the best we can with them."

• RHP Scott Baker (strained right elbow) threw a bullpen session Wednesday with no issues. Gardenhire doesn't expect Baker to need a rehab assignment and aims to start him against the Tigers as scheduled on Saturday. "If it's going to hurt him there (Rochester), it's going to hurt him here," Gardenhire said. "He says he feels great, so I think we would go right into it.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is set to start for the Red Wings Wednesday against the Durham Bulls.

On deck

The Twins and Tigers kick off their third series of the year and second at Target Field Thursday as Detroit comes to town for a four-game series. The Tigers, who lead the season series 5-0, entered Wednesday tied atop the AL Central with the Indians at 51-45.

Coming off a seven-inning no decision in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Royals, Carl Pavano will toe the rubber for the Twins. Pavano (6-6, 4.08) has pitched at least seven innings in ten of his last 11 starts, going 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA over that span. He hasn't faced the Tigers this season but is 5-2 lifetime with a 3.79 ERA against the AL Central foe.

After winning all six of his starts in the month of June, Tigers starter Justin Verlander has gone 1-2 in his last three starts but still maintaining a low 2.11 ERA. Verlander (12-5, 2.29), a four-time All-Star, leads all major league starters with 157 innings pitched and leads the American League with 153 strikeouts. The hard-throwing right-hander will face the Twins for the first time this season. He is 7-7 with a 3.71 ERA all-time against the Twins in 18 career starts with the Tigers.

Coming up

• Friday: vs. Detroit, 7:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (7-7, 4.14) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (10-5, 4.53).
• Saturday: vs. Detroit, 3:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (7-5, 3.01) vs. RHP Brad Penny (7-6, 4.47 ERA)
• Sunday: vs. Detroit, 1:10 p.m. Francisco Liriano (6-7, 4.56) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (9-6, 4.76)

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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