– Ricky Nolasco gave up three runs Thursday and was delighted. Alex Meyer allowed just one and was discouraged.

Spring training will do that to you.

Nolasco was largely effective for nearly four innings but gave up a home run on his final pitch that cost him, and eventually the Twins, in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay at Charlotte Sports Park. Still, he looked right on target to start the season.

Meyer, though, was another story. Hoping to keep pace in the competition for the final spot in the Twins rotation, the 25-year-old righthander gave up a single to leadoff hitter Juan Francisco in the sixth inning, then walked three of the next four hitters, with a sacrifice fly in between. He struck out Corey Brown (on a fastball) and Allan Dykstra (on a bat-freezing curve) to end that threat but then issued another four-pitch walk in the seventh.

“I’m searching right now. I feel like there’s something mechanically going on,” said Meyer, whose problems commanding his fastball have long been the one caveat that scouts express about him. Meyer, who needed 28 pitches to escape the inning, consulted with pitching coach Neil Allen and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado after his sloppy performance, “and they think there’s something we can fix down in the bullpen. We’ll work on it this week and hope it clears up.”

He needs a fix in a hurry, considering how well Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May have pitched as they all pursue a starting job. Paul Molitor will help make that decision, and he had no problem diagnosing Meyer’s trouble. “You can tell he starts getting sped up, and mechanically … he flies open a little bit and loses that release point,” the Twins manager said. “But he stuck with it. He got a couple of big strikeouts to limit the damage and he had a strong next inning.”

It’s possible, the 6-10 righthander conceded, that the excitement of the moment is making it difficult for him to repeat his delivery. “Probably just got a little over-amped up,” he said. “I’ve just got to relax, get back in the zone and finish the inning.”

He wasn’t the only one who had problems on Thursday. The Twins made three notable defensive mistakes, all of them with Nolasco on the mound, which made his four-hit, three-run, one-walk, two-strikeout performance all the more positive. Danny Santana and Doug Bernier both hesitated on a ground ball up the middle, allowing it to roll past them, a mistake that seemed to annoy Molitor.

“Someone has to take charge on that play,” he said. “I’d rather have both of them run into each other going for the ball, rather than back off.”

Later, Oswaldo Arcia drifted back to the left field wall and allowed a fly ball to bounce off his glove. And third baseman Jose Martinez allowed a foul popup to fall to the ground.

“I thought [Nolasco] pitched really well overall,” Molitor said. “He picked us up a couple of times.”

The Twins, using a roster of mostly non-regulars, managed only two runs off five Tampa Bay pitchers. Both runs were driven in by designated hitter Eric Fryer, who drove a two-out double to the fence in right-center off starter Nathan Karns in the second inning.