Twins Daily: With offense lacking, defense and Duensing pick up slack
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A patchwork lineup and some timely defense provided just enough help on Sunday to complement a solid start by Brian Duensing, as the Minnesota Twins avoided a four-game sweep by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2.
Playing without Joe Mauer (legs, flu), Justin Morneau (flu, rest) and Denard Span (rest) on Sunday -- and considering the team has yet to score more than five runs in a game this season -- the Twins turned to pitching and defense to beat the Rays.
Left-hander Brian Duensing threw seven solid innings, allowing only two earned runs on seven hits while striking out five and walking two. Jason Repko, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel each came up with spectacular plays in the outfield, and Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert turned a difficult double play to help Glen Perkins pitch out of a jam in the eighth inning.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the fifth inning, Michael Cuddyer doubled to left-center to lead off the inning. Steve Holm followed with a single, then advanced to second on an ill-advised throw, putting runners in scoring position for, Repko who singled to center to score Cuddyer and tie the game.
Shortly after, Repko attempted to steal second, and catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw skipped into center field, allowing Holm to score and Repko to advance to third base.
Tolbert delivered the final paper cut, blooping one to right field that dropped between fielders, scored Repko from third, and allowed Tolbert to scamper into third base with a triple.
• Span: Span received an off day on Sunday, but he had reached base safely in 12 of his first 14 games this season. Span is hitting .339/.371/.458 to start the year, which is a sign he is back on track after posting a .264/.331/.348 line last year.
• Kubel: A solo homer in the fourth inning was Kubel's second in as many days. Kubel has been the Twins' most productive hitter through 15 games, with a batting line of .321/.368/.509. He also made a spectacular catch in deep right field Sunday to help preserve a lead.
• RHP Joe Nathan: After being pushed to the brink in his first outing on April 3 against Toronto, Nathan pitched three scoreless innings against the Yankees, A's and Royals, tallying three strikeouts, walking none and allowing only one hit. On Thursday and Saturday night against the Rays, however, the wheels came off completely. Nathan littered the bases in each outing, blowing back-to-back saves for the first time since 2008. A mutual decision to make a change at closer was made shortly after.
• RHP Matt Capps: He transitioned back to the closer role Sunday by pitching a scoreless ninth, but Capps didn't exactly have a series to remember in Tampa. The right-hander gave up a walk-off homer to Johnny Damon on Thursday, then gave up a run in the eighth on Saturday that lessened the cushion for Nathan in the ninth.
106: Career infield hits for Jim Thome, whose towering pop-up in the eighth inning fell safely after flirting with the Tropicana Field catwalk.
90.7%: When hitters have swung at Nathan's pitches, they've made contact 90.7% of the time this season. By contract, hitters made contact only 68.7% of the time against Nathan in 2009, and 71% of the time throughout his career.
0: Teams that have scored fewer runs than the Twins this season (45 runs in 15 games).
• Mauer, who remains on the 15-day disabled list with leg weakness and a flu-like virus, will travel with the team to Baltimore on Sunday night. He will also visit with the specialist who helped treat his back issues from 2009 -- an appointment that was scheduled prior to him being placed on the disabled list. Gardenhire told reporters Mauer has lost between 15-20 pounds due to the virus. Gardenhire told 1500 ESPN he is optimistic Mauer's DL stint will not linger beyond 15 days.
The Twins travel to Baltimore on Monday (6:05 p.m., 1500 ESPN) for a four-game series against a struggling Orioles squad that has lost seven in a row.
Lost in the cycle of bad news that has passed through over the past few days is the fact that left-hander Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42) is off to an extremely slow start. He has yet to allow fewer than six earned runs in a start this season, and his average fastball has been clocked at 91.7 mph, as opposed to 93.7 mph last season.
Liriano will face Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (0-1, 7.30), who, despite struggling so far this season and throughout his first three stints in the major leagues, is regarded as one of Baltimore's top pitching prospects.
• Tuesday: at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (1-1, 3.60) vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (1-1, 7.04).
• Wednesday: at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (1-2, 3.06) vs. LHP Zach Britton (2-1, 2.75).
• Thursday: at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (0-2, 4.50) vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (1-2, 3.32).