MINNEAPOLIS (AP) If the Minnesota Twins can make the playoffs, Ervin Santana won't be allowed to participate.
He's been throwing well enough for them to get there, at least.
Santana pitched strong into the eighth inning, Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier each had two hits and an RBI from the top two spots in the lineup, and the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 3-1 Tuesday to start a critical series between the American League wild card chasers.
''I feel good. I didn't have my best stuff, but it was a good fight,'' said Santana, whose positive test for a performance-enhancing drug kept him out of the first 80 games, a punishment including a postseason ban.
The Twins (77-73) moved within two games of Houston (80-72) for the second AL wild card spot. The Indians (74-75) are two slots behind the Twins, with Los Angeles (77-75) in between. The Angels beat the Astros Tuesday in Houston.
''Why not? We just have to perform like we did today and we'll be fine,'' Santana said.
Santana (6-4) turned in his fifth straight stellar start, surrendering five hits, one run and one walk while striking out seven. He gave up two singles to start the eighth, but Glen Perkins got three straight outs. Kevin Jepsen struck out two in the ninth inning for his eighth save in nine tries since replacing Perkins as the closer.
''It's kind of one of those games that you've got to go through, get experience, kind of step up a little bit,'' Twins manager Paul Molitor said. ''You know you've got to grind.''
The Indians have had a winning record just once this year, April 9 at 2-1. They've alternated wins and losses over the last 10 games.
Danny Salazar (13-9) struck out 21 batters over 13 innings in his first two turns against the Twins this season, beating them April 18 and May 10 with just seven hits and three runs allowed.
Salazar retired the first eight batters he faced until Eduardo Escobar fouled off three straight 2-2 pitches before drawing a walk. Hicks followed with a triple that left fielder Michael Brantley nearly nabbed with a diving catch, only to have the ball leak out of his glove. Dozier and Joe Mauer followed with hustling, sliding doubles to left-center, giving Santana and the Twins a three-run lead.
Salazar finished six innings with five hits, three runs and three walks allowed. He struck out four and was still fuming about the full-count fastball to Escobar that home plate umpire Tom Hallion called a ball.
''I could have gone, like, seven, eight innings easily today. Because of that bad call, it cost me 20 more pitches and three runs,'' Santana said. ''That brings one of our guys out of the game too.''
Jose Ramirez had an RBI single when Mauer couldn't quite make a diving stop of his grounder to first base. That was all Santana yielded.
''Once he gets a little more comfortable, he gets tougher,'' Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Said Hicks: ''He's a great pitcher, and he's done it for a long time.''
The Indians and Twins started a stretch of seven games against each other over the next 10 days, with four at Cleveland next week.
Mauer, who also walked twice, stretched his career-long streak of reaching base to 41 straight games, tied for the third-longest in the major leagues this year. Only Bob Allison (42 games in 1961) had one longer in Twins history.
Indians: Brantley hurt his right shoulder, diving for the triple by Hicks. He batted in the next inning, before being replaced by Michael Martinez. Brantley, who had trouble with his left shoulder last month, will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco was expected to rejoin the team Wednesday, ready to pitch out of the bullpen if there's a role available. Nolasco had surgery on his right ankle July 14. He last pitched May 31.
RHP Corey Kluber (8-14, 3.44 ERA) will take the mound for the Indians Wednesday, likely on a pitch limit. Twins RHP Phil Hughes (10-9, 4.58 ERA) will start, coming off his first relief appearance of the season during the doubleheader Saturday.