DETROIT – Twins starting pitchers are no longer getting knocked out of games early. The team’s bullpen isn’t being taxed. And the offense believes it has a chance to win if it can put up a few runs.
In other words, things have started to go as the Twins planned they would entering the season, before they didn’t.
After Ervin Santana crafted seven solid innings Wednesday and reliever Ryan Pressly got through the eighth unscathed, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario blasted homers in the ninth to beat the Tigers 4-1 and give the Twins victories in two of the three games in the series at Comerica Park.
“[The starters] are pitching up to their capabilities,” Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki said.
Santana was the latest Twins starter to pitch effectively against the Tigers, giving up a run on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts. In the three games in Detroit, Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone and Santana combined for a 1.69 ERA, and Detroit scored only four runs in the three games.
Twins starters carried a whopping 5.84 ERA on June 18 — right before they gave up 22 runs to the Phillies in a three-game series. But in their past 22 games — during which they are 12-10 — the unit has crafted a 3.43 ERA that has lowered the season number to 5.12. The current spurt reveals how bad they were during the first half of the season — they still began Wednesday ranked 29th in baseball and last in the AL in starter’s ERA — but they have improved.
“You look at all the guys’ track records and it was a rough half-season,” Suzuki said. “I think this is a good sign that things have turned around a little bit and guys can finish up strong.”
At this stage of a lost season, the Twins will enjoy any victory. The players were all smiles as they took off for Boston.
Starting pitching dominated the series. A solo home run by the Tigers’ Justin Upton on Monday stood as the only run of the game. Milone pitched 8⅓ innings Tuesday, and the Twins scored five runs in the seventh before winning 6-2.
Those were the warmup acts for Wednesday, when Santana and Justin Verlander ruled.
Joe Mauer homered in the first but Ian Kinsler matched him in the bottom of the inning to tie the score at 1-1. The Twins only got one runner into scoring position over the next seven innings off Verlander, who struck out nine. Santana answered Verlander’s power with craftiness, as he retired 10 in a row and 15 of 16 to steam into the late innings.
Verlander left after eight for Francisco Rodriguez, the Tigers closer. He got two quick outs but ran the count full to Kepler.
“Someone told me he throws changeups in fastball counts,” Kepler said.
That someone was hitting coach Tom Brunansky, and Kepler crushed the pitch into the seats in right to give the Twins a 2-1 lead. Kepler pointed at the dugout as he began to run the bases.
“The emotions got the better of me,” Kepler said. “I usually don’t pimp stuff that much, but I was excited.”
Kennys Vargas reached on Rodriguez’s throwing error, and Rosario followed with a two-run homer to right-center. Brandon Kintzler pitched the ninth to pick up his sixth save, making a winner out of Pressly (3-5).
Santana is 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA over his past six starts. The run began right when the rest of the rotation started pitching deeper into games, and the hitters are now doing their part.
“[It’s] just the atmosphere about competing,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “And knowing that you are going to have a good chance because the guy probably is going to keep you in the game and give you a chance to offensively find a way to win.”