Twins bullpen locks up 6-4 win over reeling Rays
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota's 10-game homestand started fast with a leadoff inside-the-park home run by Eduardo Nunez. Buoyed by a season-high 15 hits for the Twins, the bullpen finished strong.
That elusive winning formula, for once, was fully in grasp.
Byung Ho Park went a career-best 3 for 3, Max Kepler picked up his first two major league RBIs and four Twins relievers combined for five scoreless innings in a 6-4 victory over the reeling Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night.
''We're looking for anything to continue to stay hot,'' said Nunez, who provided a spark so unique the franchise has never had one since moving to Minnesota in 1961. His leadoff inside-the-park homer was the first in the majors since 2012, too.
Right fielder Brandon Guyer, fighting the evening shadows and setting sun, jumped for Nunez's drive at the warning track. The ball bounced off his glove into the corner, and Nunez dived into home with a bare-head-first slide and a big smile. His helmet had fallen off between first and second, where it often does. Expecting the stop sign from third-base coach Gene Glynn, Nunez had to pick up the pace for the final turn but still scored easily.
''I was like, `Oh, my God. I have to get going,''' said Nunez, the utility infielder who has quietly been making a case to be the team's All-Star game representative with a .331 batting average and an .867 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Both Guyer and Rays manager Kevin Cash didn't believe Nunez should have even been credited with his first career inside-the-park home run, though.
''That's an error,'' Cash said. ''We've got to make that play.''
Regardless of the ruling, the Twins (16-37) recovered smoothly from a rocky start by Phil Hughes that ended with a two-run homer by Evan Longoria in the fifth that put the Rays up 4-3.
Taylor Rogers (1-0) struck out two over two perfect innings for his first major league victory. Ryan Pressly and Brandon Kintzler followed with scoreless frames, and former Rays right-hander Kevin Jepsen worked the ninth for his seventh save in 10 tries.
''It was a nice team win, but I have to figure out what's going on,'' said Hughes, who was removed from the rotation last weekend but never pitched in relief. The Twins scratched Kyle Gibson from this start because of a stiff back, but after this Hughes could find himself in the bullpen again.
Hughes allowed eight hits, four runs and one walk. In 11 starts this year, he has completed seven innings only once and given up two runs or fewer just twice.
The Rays have lost five straight games and 11 of their past 13. They had only one hit after Hughes was removed with no outs in the fifth.
Matt Moore misfired in his chance to win consecutive starts for the first time this season for the Rays, but reliever Erasmo Ramirez (6-4) took the loss after hitting Brian Dozier on the elbow with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
Moore finished five innings, allowing eight hits, four runs and two walks while striking out four. After posting a 7.36 ERA over five May starts, Moore was unhappy about being taken out after 96 pitches.
''I felt like I still had more work to go out there,'' said Moore, who has logged five innings or fewer in 14 of his 23 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery last summer.
Dozier homered off Moore, and the fifth through ninth batters for the Twins combined for 10 hits in 19 at-bats. Joe Mauer had one, too, giving him 1,750 for his career to pass Kent Hrbek for fourth place on the team's all-time list.
''The home runs are nice. I don't really like to be the kind of team that relies on that,'' manager Paul Molitor said.
Rays: 2B Steve Pearce was on the bench for the second straight game because of a sore right elbow. His status is day to day.
Twins: RHP Glen Perkins will throw a bullpen session Saturday. He's missed the past 46 games because of left shoulder trouble.
Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi (2-3, 3.36 ERA) will take the mound Friday, fresh from one of his best starts of the season despite a loss to the Yankees.
Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco (2-3, 3.93 ERA) will take his turn Friday.