ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – The Twins' hitters seemed to know they had two major league firsts on deck among the pitching ranks Sunday, and they planned accordingly.

Stacking up five runs in the first inning, they gave ample run support to Josh Winder, making his first big-league start, and Cole Sands, an MLB debutant out of the bullpen. The Twins went on to beat Tampa Bay 9-3 on Sunday at Tropicana Field, taking two of three in the series against the reigning AL East champions and improving to 13-9, having won nine of their past 10 games.

"Those guys can score as much as they want," Winder said. "It takes a lot of pressure off me, so that was awesome."

The Twins' first four batters all reached the bases against Rays starter Josh Fleming. Kyle Garlick had an RBI single and Jorge Polanco a two-run double within that group, before Max Kepler and Gary Sanchez both drove in runs later in the inning.

Byron Buxton, who was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup because of a hand contusion endured from taking a pitch off the wrist Friday, was back at the top of the lineup and in center field Sunday. He smashed a fourth-inning homer to send Fleming out of the game, having given up six runs (five earned) with five hits, three walks and only one strikeout.

Meanwhile, Winder sailed through his outing on the other side. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Winder was "fantastic" through his six innings, where he gave up only two hits and one walk while striking out seven.

It's perhaps even more impressive considering how Winder hasn't been able to follow a regular starter's routine this season. The 25-year-old has always been a starter, but he made the Opening Day roster after a shortened spring camp as a long reliever to cover for the not-as-built-up rotation.

When Sonny Gray and later Bailey Ober went on the injured list, a spot for Winder opened. He said he had known since Thursday, when Ober left his start against Detroit early, that he would find his way into the rotation, and that gave him time to prepare.

Winder said his previous three relief appearances were a boon, as he was able to work out any first-game jitters and enter this start with confidence.

"He's the one, no matter what we've thrown his way, accepts it," Baldelli said. "And he's gone out there, and he's flourished up to this point."

The Twins added a couple more runs after Winder's exit, as Polanco added a second two-run double in the seventh inning while Trevor Larnach — who took injured Garlick's place on base in the third — hit an RBI single in the eighth.

Tyler Duffey gave up Tampa Bay's first run in the seventh inning, on Taylor Walls' RBI double. Sands then made his MLB debut, giving up two runs — on a run-scoring single to Manuel Margot and an RBI double to Randy Arozarena — and three hits when he came into the eighth inning before settling to finish the game with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Winder said his dad made the trip from Virginia to see the game, as did his three best friends who surprised him. Sands had about 15 family and friends in the stands since he is from Tallahassee, Fla. But the two also count each other as pals in attendance, as they have played together in the minor leagues.

And now, they have experienced concurrent milestones.

"Me and Josh, we've become pretty good friends over the years, and I knew he had that in him," Sands said. "… I was happy for him, for sure."