It sounds as if Twins lefthander Brian Duensing thinks he should apologize for strikeouts.

"I don't think I have that good of stuff," he said. "Every time I strike someone out, I feel like it's an accident."

He was asked about a pitch he threw at 71 miles per hour Monday, which fanned Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon.

"Curveball," he said. "Hung it. Backdoor sliders and hanging curveballs, the two best pitches."

He was the reluctant complete-game shutout master Monday as the Twins eased to a 7-0 victory over Tampa Bay in the first of a three-game series at Target Field.

"They hit some balls hard right at guys," he said, "and sometimes it is better to be lucky than good."

Duensing gave up six hits and walked four while tying a career high with seven strikeouts and earning his second career complete-game shutout. His record is 6-7, with a 4.25 ERA that's falling.

His slider isn't devastating but it's solid. He's no Johan Santana with his changeup, but it's good enough. He threw strikes, found a groove and watched a few at 'em balls land in gloves.

He should be relieved. He posted a 8.76 ERA in May and spent June battling to get on track. With Kevin Slowey building up his endurance at Class AAA Rochester, some Twins followers have wondered if Duensing should be a candidate to head to the bullpen.

Duensing has posted a 2.36 ERA over his past four starts. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson have stood by him, reasoning that he has earned the chance to address his issues. Duensing's recent efforts should cement his spot in the rotation, if it was unsettled at all.

It was July of last year when Duensing entered the starting rotation and helped lock down the AL Central title by going 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA. It was the second consecutive season in which he entered the rotation during midseason.

But he entered Monday's start with a walk rate of 3.23 per nine innings, and opponents were batting .282, up from .247 last season.

"That was the big thing for me, I think, is not to panic," he said. "That's been the big issue for me. I think I try to do too much when things kinda get hairy, and the next thing you know I'm leaving balls up."

He walked four batters over the first five innings Monday. He needed two double plays and strong defense to get him out of trouble. He picked up the pace, his pitches got sharper and he retired 15 of 16 Rays batters after his final walk.

Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia hit home runs, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka added a two-run double as the Twins won for the fifth time in six games.

Anderson checked with Duensing after eight innings and 109 pitches, and Duensing told him, "I'm going back out there."

He remained cool under pressure Monday. Too bad he's not a Minnesota politician.

"Although he walked four and actually struck out a lot of guys, you still felt like the pace of the game was moving relatively quick," Cuddyer said. "It wasn't like it was dragging along. It was moving pretty quick, and as a fielder, that's all you can ask for."

Duensing eventually expressed satisfaction about turning his season around. He embraces self-deprecation as if he's watched a lot of Richard Lewis' comedy act, so his postgame pressers are like stand-up routines as he gets his point across.

"I haven't been doing that well lately," he said. "I knew that my numbers haven't been good. I haven't gone deep into a game. This is a real positive to let me go this late, and the fact they had the confidence to let me go back out there after with 109 pitches after eight [innings] was a real positive, too."

La Velle E. Neal III •