Max Kepler felt his neck tighten up when he was on the on-deck circle in the first inning Thursday, and he made the decision he wouldn't attempt to swing after Royce Lewis drew a walk.

"I wasn't going to swing there, and I feel like it was too late to ask to be subbed out," Kepler said after the Twins' 7-6 loss in 10 innings. "So, I went with the bunt option."

Batting with two outs and a runner on first, Kepler attempted to bunt twice. The second time was in play, dragging the ball to first base, and he tried to beat out a flip from Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Yandy Díaz to starting pitcher Zack Littell with a headfirst slide.

Kepler, who is expected to avoid a stint on the injured list, was slow to stand up after he was called out. After a quick visit from head trainer Nick Paparesta and manager Rocco Baldelli, Kepler walked to the dugout, and he was replaced by Manuel Margot.

"It's a little stiff when I look to my right, but the docs and trainers said it's just muscular and it should clear up within a couple days," said Kepler, who will travel with the Twins to Oakland for their upcoming road trip.

It's the first time Kepler experienced that type of neck stiffness, he said, though it didn't stop him from a headfirst slide.

"I guess all the competitive side of me took over," he said. "It wasn't a spasm. It was more of like, 'I don't know, I haven't felt it before.' But my right side just locked up."

Jackson cut

Twins reliever Jay Jackson was designated for assignment following Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Rays. Jackson allowed three runs, two homers and a walk against the six batters he faced while recording two strikeouts.

It's the second time Jackson, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason, was designated for assignment this season. The Twins have a week to place him on waivers or trade him.

The Twins are expected to recall lefty Kody Funderburk, who has given up three hits and one run in eight innings at Class AAA with 14 strikeouts.

Mound problems

After Joe Ryan gave up one run in six innings Wednesday, one of the top things on his mind was the Target Field mound.

Rays starter Taj Bradley, Ryan said, left a "freaking crater" in the dirt with his left foot, the leg he strides with in his delivery.

"It was honestly the worst I've ever experienced, probably," Ryan said. "I think there was a travel ballgame when I was in my junior year of high school, and it was the worst mound I've ever experienced, in San Diego. Brought me back to that moment."

The deep hole on the mound affected pitchers differently based on the length of their stride. Twins reliever Josh Staumont, who walked three batters in the eighth inning, was looking down at it after his second pitch. Jhoan Duran said he slipped twice when he pitched in the ninth inning.

"Their starter must be putting a lot of force into the ground," said reliever Cole Sands. "It was a big crater out there. For me, luckily, I have a little bit of a shorter stride, so I wasn't making it all the way down to it. Toes were kind of making it to it. The first couple pitches, I was like, 'Oh!' "


Royce Lewis singled on a first-pitch curveball from Bradley, a pitch he's thrown sparingly this season and only twice Wednesday. "I didn't even know he had [a curveball]," Lewis said. "I'm glad I poked that for a single. Ben Rortvedt, the catcher, he's like, 'Did you know he had a curveball?' I said, 'No, I didn't.' Sometimes you just see ball, hit ball. I feel like that's when you become the best version of yourself as a hitter. That's been my approach as of late."

Brooks Lee hit two homers and drove in five runs, Matt Wallner hit his 17th homer of the season, and the Saints extended their winning streak to nine with an 8-5 victory over Toledo at CHS Field. The winning streak is a Saints record as a Class AAA franchise. Lee hit a go-ahead three-run homer in a four-run fifth, then added a two-run shot the next inning. David Festa gave up four runs and five hits, including two homers, in 5⅔ innings, striking out six and walking none.