– Hector Santiago had a rough start to his Twins career, but he’s beginning to show how he can help the club in the future.

Santiago was knocked out in the sixth inning Thursday but still did enough to help the Twins to a 5-1 victory over Detroit and earn a split of the four-game series at Comerica Park.

For the Twins, it meant a pleasant flight to New York, where they will play the Mets this weekend. For the Tigers, it was a missed opportunity to strengthen their playoff case against a team they have otherwise dominated this season. The Twins are only 4-12 against Detroit this season.

Santiago (12-8) gave up one run over 5⅔ innings on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts. He fell one out short of extending his streak to four consecutive quality starts, but he has a 1.80 ERA over those four outings — after posting a 10.89 ERA through his first four starts with the Twins. That was after he came over in an Aug. 1 trade with the Angels and tried to alter his mechanics to throw more strikes.

“I gave it a chance, trying to work on some stuff,” he said. “Tried to lower the pitch count per inning. Throw more strikes than walks. It kind of got to me. I was leaving a lot pitches over the plate. I wasn’t worried about executing pitches.

“It’s the difference between bearing down and trying to throw some really good pitches in, or throwing strike one. I think that was the difference in effectiveness and deception to the hitters.”

Handed an early four-run lead, Santiago had to battle through some at-bats, which bloated his pitch count and led to a sixth-inning exit. But he stayed out of big trouble.

Detroit had two on with one out in the third, but Santiago struck out Ian Kinsler and then got Jose Igelsias to fly out. The scenario repeated itself in the fifth, but Santiago escaped by getting two flyouts.

James McCann finally got the Tigers on board with a run-scoring double in the sixth on Santiago’s 103rd pitch of the day. Twins manager Paul Molitor elected to go to the bullpen.

And the bullpen did not disappoint. J.T. Chargois got the final out of the sixth. Alex Wimmers tossed two scoreless innings. Brandon Kintzler gave up two hits, but still pitched a scoreless ninth.

Santiago, who is making $5 million this season and is eligible for arbitration, is expected to be a part of the Twins rotation next year.

“I think there’s a lot of people confident that he was going to pick it up after a little bit of a rough start coming over here,” Molitor said. “It’s one of those things where it’s probably going to take care of itself. But I understand it was a question after his first few starts.”

The Twins scored four runs in the second inning to chase former teammate Mike Pelfrey (4-10). Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar had RBI singles before Brian Dozier clinically slapped a two-strike, two-out pitch for a two-run single to left and a 4-0 lead.

Dozier has hit a whopping 41 home runs, but his two-strike approach revealed someone who is not only swinging for the fences.

“That was the biggest hit of the game,” Molitor said. “Going from two to four runs, that’s a big inning.”

Sano skips New York

Miguel Sano has family and friends in New York. He said he has a place there. And his agency, Roc Nation, has an office in New York.

But he will be unable to see them all this weekend.

Sano headed back to the Twin Cities to have his balky back examined. He woke up with a sore back about a week ago and felt he could play through it. But it worsened Monday and forced him to leave the game.

He tried doing some light drills in recent days. “I think he tried to take a few swings in the cage,” Molitor said. “That didn’t go particularly well.”

So the Twins will have their doctors look at him and come up with a recovery plan.

“I hope to play again and finish strong this year,” Sano said.

Mauer returns

There was one Twins player in the clubhouse at 9:45 a.m. Thursday. It was Joe Mauer, who hit the hot and cold tubs in an effort to get his legs ready to play.

Mauer was back after missing four games because of a sore right quad. He has been hampered by problems with both quads over the past month, with the right one causing the most problems lately.

Mauer wants to play against the Mets on Friday. “Hopefully, if all goes well,” he said.